Gleaner Online
Updated Every Weekday at Noon - Jamaica Time Feb 1, 1999


Gun Court converting to Peace Centre

Avia Ustanny, Staff Reporter

Executive director of the new Peace Centre, Miss Donna Parchment (left) with Mrs. Karen Gentles, project co-ordinator (standing) and

* Will provide forum for justice in criminal or civil cases

WHERE THE sound of the judge's gavel once drove fear into the hearts of many, a different emotion now erupts when noise shakes the low ceilings of the halls of the Gun Court on South Camp Road in Kingston.

The once notorious Gun Court is being turned into the Peace Centre. What irony!

The Gun Court was the place where men and women caught with bullets or guns, were sentenced to prison terms of up to life imprisonment.

Now the loudest sounds to be heard in the former judge's chambers are the rat-tat-tatting of hammers driving nails into wood, the swish of paint brushes and the sound of tiles being scrubbed to look like new.

An even greater irony is the presence of inmates of the South Camp Road Rehabilitation Centre. Many of them, sentenced under the Gun Court law, are the ones busily assisting in the renovation of the run-down facility for its new purpose.

Executive director of the new Peace Centre, Miss Donna Parchment, told The Gleaner: "It is true that the name Gun Court and the way it started strikes fear into the heart. Though the whole idea of the Court was to provide justice for all citizens by having a speedy processing of criminal cases, this did not happen," said Miss Parchment, an attorney-at-law.

She said "the Peace Centre, in the same way, will provide a forum for justice in either crim inal or civil cases. The aim is for people to find peace with one another, not in a passive sense, but a peace in which they are involved."

Miss Parchment believes "our new location is particularly appropriate. What is going to happen now is the same idea without the notion of fear. A well-intentioned history has finally been consummated."

The High Court division of the Gun Court has been re-located to the Supreme Court building at Justice Square, downtown Kingston, while the Resident Magistrate's division is now at the Half-Way Tree courthouse.

The Peace Centre is now headquarters of the Dispute Resolution Foundation (DRF) which, since 1994, has been providing services to people interested in resolving issues through mediation.

The organisation seeks to increase co-operation in the management and resolution of disputes involving business, the police, the courts, social service agencies and the people in general, through the controlled process of mediation.

The Foundation uses a panel of skilled mediators to resolve disputes. It is also involved with the training of mediators, the development of business, court-annexed police and community dispute resolution programmes and the organisation of arbitration as an appropriate option for dispute resolution.

During the period February 1995 to November 1998, more than 6,000 persons were direct recipients of training or service. Participants included teachers, students, lay magistrates, community leaders, correctional service officers, corporate executives, managers and line staff.

Mediation centres have been established in Kingston and St. Andrew, St. Catherine, St. Mary, St. Ann, St. Thomas, Hanover and St. James, while trained groups have been put in place in Manchester, Portland and Westmoreland. The centres offer mediation services and co-ordinate the work of the police, courts and schools.

The KRC Teen Centre has a corps of trained youth mediators and work has been done with 42 high schools across the island. Sensitisation workshops have also been held in all teacher training colleges throughout the island.

With mediation, a neutral third party guides the disputants to a resolution of their problems.

The organisation, whose patron is the Chief Justice of Jamaica, was initially funded by a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) grant under the Sustainable Justice Improvement Programme which ended in 1996. Sustainability is brought about through a combination of corporate and international donations and fees for service.

In the meantime, the Ministry of National Security and Justice has launched victim support programmes in six parishes with the objective of providing access to mediation counselling.

According to Miss Parchment, "if people feel that justice is denied them, then they are more likely to use revenge as an approach."

The centre claims a high rate of success. About 64 per cent of all issues in the mediation process have been resolved, the executive director said.

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