Tue | Jan 18, 2022

Mediation programme being piloted in parish courts

Published:Thursday | December 2, 2021 | 9:40 AM
Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck, addressing the launch of the pilot mediation programme being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice and the Dispute Resolution Foundation on December 1, 2021 - Contributed photo.

A mediation programme is being piloted in the parish courts as part of efforts to reduce the backlog of cases while enabling persons to settle disputes peacefully.

The programme is being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice and the Dispute Resolution Foundation (DRF) and will run from December 1 to March 2022.

The initiative aims to improve the pace of litigation, promote early and fair resolution of disputes, reduce the cost of litigation to the parties and the court system, and improve access to justice for the public.

Matters eligible for referral to mediation include personal injury litigation; complex contract cases, product, and professional liability actions; commercial litigation; cases with cooperative parties, who have been unable to reach settlement on their own; cases where quick resolution would avoid serious economic harm to parties; cases where a confidential settlement is desirable or where legal precedent should be avoided; and instances for mediation as outlined in legislation.

Speaking at the virtual launch of the programme on Wednesday, Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck said the initiative will provide alternative means for persons seeking to settle disputes.

“Unfortunately, in Jamaica, we have far too many neighbourhoods, communities where residents are in disagreements, in disputes, many in serious conflicts and, sadly, they settle them with serious abuses, brute force and… criminal violence. That is not the way our people must live. We must find alternative means to settle our disputes… and restore relationships,” he pointed out.

He noted that the idea is to utilise mediation as much as possible, noting that this forms part of efforts to reduce the backlog in the justice system.

“We hope that in further fiscal years, it will be broadened as we emphasise that mediation is the way that many disputes can be settled,” he said.

The justice minister indicated that the Ministry will be offsetting the cost for persons who are unable to afford the services.

“Many of the litigants in the parish courts just can't afford mediation… [so] what we have decided at the Ministry is to find some funds for this pilot project and to make a contribution to the mediators to… ensure that all litigants who would like to participate in mediation can go… without the need to say, 'I can't afford it',” he noted.

Chuck said that following the pilot, a determination will be made as to whether to make the process of mediation in the parish courts mandatory, as is the case in the Supreme Court.

“The Chief Justice informs me that just under 40 per cent of these cases are actually settled at mediation. We hope to work with DRF so that the number can be increased to way in excess of 50 per cent,” he said.

He noted that mediation is being used as one of the ways to reduce the time between a case starting or a trial date being set.

DRF Chairman, John Bassie, said that the board is committed to increasing the use of mediation throughout the country and instilling a culture change in how disputes are resolved.

“We are setting up to increase the presence of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in schools, in communities, in the private sector and… we will be doing the same in the parish courts that carries the heavy load of cases in our legal system and, yes, we are proud to collaborate with the Minister and Chief Justice in this initiative,” he said.

Under the programme, a pro bono means tests will be conducted to ascertain whether the parties qualify for inclusion in the programme.

Matters involving the eligible persons will be dealt with using assigned mediators, who will be compensated by the Ministry of Justice through the DRF.

Once a matter is referred by the parish court for mediation, the DRF and/or the court will assign a mediator.

The DRF is a private voluntary entity founded in July 1994 to establish and encourage the use of ADR techniques throughout Jamaica.

- JIS News 

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