Common Sense: Ancient ADR Traditions – Tribunal de las Aguas de la Vega de Valencia

Triggered by Elinor Ostrom’s obituary in The Economist, I briefly wrote about traditional ways of dispute settlement, in particular in farming communities. Today’s post by Nicolas Ulmer at the Kluwer Arbitration Blog shares interesting observations on such an ancient tradition in Spain, the Tribunal de las Aguas de la Vega de Valencia. The Tribunal is a self-regulatory body dealing with water disputes amongst farmers in the Huerta region around Valencia. Its tradition is traced back to Roman times. Nicolas Ulmer describes it as follows:

“The Tribunal de les Aigües is composed of eight farmers from different parts of the Huerta (representing the eight principal canals), who are elected democratically for two-year terms by their fellow water users. These Tribunal judges rule on water use disputes and complaints (essentially when a farmer is accused of violating the statutes that apply to his canal) brought before them by their peers.  They also have the power to access fines. The entire proceeding is verbal (even the charge and the acquittal) and the decision is pronounced in Valenciano immediately after the open-air oral proceeding terminates. The decisions are final with no right of appeal.”

Do read the entire post, complete with YouTube link. – I would love to learn from readers about similar traditions and institutions across the globe. Perhaps we can build a collection of such traditions and institutions over time, and in the process also a repertoire of ideas on which to draw in our practices.



  1. Interesting article Peter. I am doing a lot of forensic accountancy work in the Middle East and it is interesting that the region has a long history of arbitration (Tahkim) under Shari’a law, so it is much easier discussing international arbitration as a concept rather than major litigation.

    There is plenty of information out on the web, so I haven’t included any links, but happy to pass them on to anyone who is interested.

  2. Turlough O'Donnell

    In 2008 having walked the Camino de Santiago I went to visit the Tribunal de las Aguas and then gave a paper to the Irish Commercial Mediators Association on my experience with some notes on an ancient Irish system of dispute resolution.
    The paper is available on the ICMA website.
    Turlough O’Donnell

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