AG urges lawyers to embrace mediation

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Canadian High Commissioner to Guyana, Lillian Chatterjee addresses the gathering (Samuel Maughn photos)

… says method can cut backlog of cases, deliver timelier justice

EVEN as government remains committed to ensuring that mediation is utilised in the judicial process, there are attorneys within the legal fraternity who are not embracing the method in a conciliatory mindset.

A section of the audience

This came to the fore on Thursday at the opening ceremony of a two-day workshop in which top officials and other members of the judiciary, mediation experts from Guyana and overseas gathered at the Guyana Marriott Hotel in Kingston for a two–day refresher training workshop.

Mediation Coordinator, Colin Chichester, told the gathering which included Attorney General Basil Williams; Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Yonette Cummings-Edwards; Canadian High Commissioner to Guyana, Lillian Chatterjee; Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan and several high court judges among others, that to date close to 1,000 matters have been referred to the Mediation Institute and of that number, 354 were successful while 420 were unsuccessful. He said the numbers suggest that there is an imbalance in persons arriving at an agreement.

Chichester said that there are attorneys who are not embracing mediation with a more conciliatory mindset. ”We find also that the attorneys tend not to orient their clients to the fact that they should expect a more embracing environment,” he said. “The non-attorney mediators are not being utilised, as opposed to attorneys.”

Members of the head table during the forum

The Attorney General told the gathering that mediation, along with other alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods serve as potent tools for resolving disputes. He said that mediation, when used properly, has the effect of reducing the backlog of cases and allows for timelier access to justice. “Apart from time, it is cheaper than litigation, saves money and avoids cases being continued by appeals. It also gives persons the liberty to resolve their own disputes as mediation proceedings are not bound by the rules of evidence or any rigid procedure,” he noted.

Meanwhile, AG Williams, who is also a trained mediator, said that the Government of Guyana remains committed to ensure the judiciary functions to the benefit of all. This Government remains open to working closely with the judiciary, the bar, the mediation centre and other persons, so that together we can deliver a justice system that works for the benefit of all,” he noted.

Williams said too that in the long run, the success of mediation will depend on its acceptance by the legal profession, other professions, the business community and the public at large. “To achieve this, all concerned must gain and enhance their understanding of mediation and its advantages,” he added.

Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Yonette Cummings-Edwards speaks to participants

Canadian High Commissioner told the gathering that the JURIST Project, which is being implemented by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), is part of Canada’s larger commitment to the region. She said that Canada remains committed to the health and strength of legal systems and many are aware of the importance of mediation in resolving a number of issues such as divorce, harassment, marks of violence and violence against women, among others.

On the issue of violence against women, High Commissioner Chatterjee said that it is one which should not be “culturally accepted.” She said that as mediators, participants should sensitise parties on the process of mediation since it provides an atmosphere where people can fully understand one another.

She congratulated the local judiciary and the government for taking the issue “very seriously” and for also understanding its impact on Guyanese.

Jamela Ali of Mediation Services International expressed hope that her organisation will make a difference in the judiciary here. She said that she is delighted that the Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary Cummings-Edwards has continued the development of mediation since 2003/2004 when the system was established here.

She said that mediation is universally recognised, a valuable skill, it is a respective tool to non-violence and it equips the mediators with the ability to listen effectively and develop positive communication. The acting chancellor of the judiciary called on the mediators to enhance their skills and to be ready to assist the judiciary in the process of the administration of justice. She said too that there is a proposal e to expand the existing list of mediators.


Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams talks to the gathering

The refresher training will conclude on Friday. It is a follow-up to another workshop which was undertaken in Berbice. The event is being supported by the JURIST Project through the Government of Canada and Mediation Services International. In the mediation process, the specific case is first examined by the court and then referred to the Mediation Coordinator.  Lawyers representing the respective parties must then agree on a mediator who would be provided by the coordinator.

A meeting is then scheduled between the mediator, lawyers and their clients, a process which can last three hours or more. All parties must sign an agreement and after a final consensus of the parties in dispute is reached, a corresponding order of court is made at the end of the process.