Reducing need for courthouse clothes
THE T&T public has remained overwhelmed by the bad news of crime that contributes to slowing an already creaky justice system to a crawl. Toward relieving the overburdened criminal justice process, legislative measures to restrict bail and remove jury trials—now before the Parliament—are attracting responses from "stakeholder" bodies such as the Law Association, and from the general public.
It is thus reassuring to recognise an initiative now underway, unconnected with crime, but also addressed to more expeditious turning of the wheels of justice. The initiative has taken the shape in a rare public sector-private sector collaboration designed to unclog at least the civil courts.
As described in last week's Business Express, this is the objective of a pilot project championed by Chief Justice Ivor Archie, which combines the efforts of the official Court-Annexed Mediation and T&T Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Judicial Settlement Conferencing. The project encourages parties to disputes to withdraw their matters, in whole or in part, from the courts, and submit them to mediation.
Under the one-year project, funded by the Judiciary, 200 civil cases in the High Court will be referred for mediation to the Chamber's Dispute Resolution Centre. The Judiciary hopes to learn from this experiment how best to set up "a permanent and extended suite of dispute resolution options which would be offered to litigants when a matter is filed at the court," the T&T Chamber reported.
Nobody is forced or pressured to take the mediation route, rather than await the outcome of lengthy legal disputation before a judge. But the project should at least advertise another way to proceed which, though unfamiliar, offers advantages to litigants. The hope inspiring the mediation-route project is that, compared to the High Court process, mediation will be economical, fast, fair, and also preserve an amicable relationship between the litigating parties. Mediation, presumably around a table, recommends itself as being less adversarial and less rigid than making representations before the judicial bench. Parties to a dispute derive the satisfaction of each having had an adequate hearing of its claims and concerns. Again, in contrast to going the courthouse route, disputants choosing mediation are guaranteed a conclusion, one way or another, in 70 days. Settlements reached, with facilitation of skilled mediators, may be certified as orders of the High Court. Nor have the parties given up their rights to a trial; for matters may revert to the courts should mediation fail.
If it works, and all sides are comfortable with the process toward an outcome, the need should progressively be eliminated for at least parts of costly and lengthy trials. Mediation is thus an option well worth exploring and supporting by citizens and bodies seeking timely and acceptable justice in the civil courts.