SC: Statements made by parties during mediation/conciliation can’t be relied upon during adjudication

The Hon’ble Supreme Court on 15th February 2019, in Perry Kansagra v. Smriti Madan Kansagra pronounced that though on the ground of confidentiality, statements made by parties during the course of mediation/conciliation cannot be relied upon during adjudication but in matters concerning custody or guardianship issues, natural responses and statements made by the minor to the Counsellor can be relied upon.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

It is well settled that an error which is required to be detected by a process of reasoning can hardly be said to be an error apparent on the face of the record. To justify exercise of review jurisdiction, the error must be self-evident. (Para 16)

It is true that the process of mediation is founded on the element of confidentiality. Qualitatively, Mediation or Conciliation stands on a completely different footing as against regular adjudicatory processes. Instead of an adversarial stand in adjudicatory proceedings, the idea of mediation is to resolve the dispute at a level which is amicable rather than adversarial. In the process, the parties may make statements which they otherwise they would not have made while the matter was pending adjudication before a court of law. Such statements which are essentially made in order to see if there could be a settlement, ought not to be used against the maker of such statements in case at a later point the attempts at mediation completely fail. If the statements are allowed to be used at subsequent stages, the element of confidence which is essential for healthy mediation/conciliation would be completely lost. The element of confidentiality and the assurance that the statements would not be relied upon helps the parties bury the hatchet and move towards resolution of the disputes. The confidentiality is, thus, an important element of mediation/conciliation. (Para 24)

Complete adherence to confidentiality would absolutely be correct in normal matters where the role of the court is purely of an adjudicator. But such an approach may not essentially be conducive when the court is called upon and expected to discharge its role in the capacity as parens patriae and is concerned with the welfare of a child. All custody and guardianship issues are resolved on the touchstone or parameter of “best interest of the child”. In custody and guardianship disputes between two parties, a minor child is in a peculiar situation. At times, both sides are busy fighting legal battles and the court is called upon in parens patriae to decide what is in the best interest of the child. In order to reach correct conclusion, the court may interview the child or may depend upon the analysis of an expert who may spend some more time with the child and gauge the upbringing, personality, desires or mental frame of the child and render assistance to the court. It is precisely for this reason that the element of confidentiality which is otherwise the basic foundation of mediation/conciliation, to a certain extent, can be departed from. (Para 25)

Statements made by the parents during the course of mediation may not be relied upon on the ground of confidentiality but natural responses and statements made by the minor to the Counsellor would certainly afford a chance to decide what is in the best interest of the child. A child may respond naturally and spontaneously in its interactions with the Counsellor, who is professionally trained to make the child feel comfortable. Record of such interaction may afford valuable inputs to the Court in discharge of its duties in parens patriae jurisdiction. If during such interaction issues or aspects concerning welfare of a child are noticed, there is no reason why the Court be deprived of access to such aspects. The paramount consideration ought to be to see what is in the best interest of the child. (Para 27)

The normal principle of confidentiality will not apply in matters concerning custody or guardianship issues and the Court, in the best interest of the child, must be equipped with all the material touching upon relevant issues in order to render complete justice. This departure from confidentially is consistent with the underlined theme of the Act in general and Section 12 in particular. Once there is a clear exception in favour of categories stated therein, principles in any other forms of mediation/conciliation or other modes of Alternative Dispute Resolution regarding confidentiality cannot be imported. The effect of such exception cannot be diluted or nullified. (Para 28)

Copy of judgment:Judgement_15-Feb-2019

-Tushar Kaushik

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