By Shabna Ullah
A mediation centre will soon be established at the High Court building in New Amsterdam, which will allow Berbicians to resolve their disputes without the expensive and long-winded court process, as well as improve relationships.
At a seminar on conflict resolution held at the Little Rock Suites on Tuesday, Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Justice Carl Singh said that mediation was intended to bring home to lawyers that there is an alternative to trials.
He informed the gathering of lawyers, magistrates, religious leaders and other concerned residents that the first batch of mediators who were trained were lawyers, including Berbice attorney-at-law, Rohan Chandan.
Sixty more persons are in the process of being trained and a decision was taken to include doctors, engineers, social workers and religious leaders among others.
He pointed out that a number of cases, which would not have been settled in the “conventional trial setting,” have already been settled out of court.
The chancellor noted too that the court system was plagued by delays, absent witnesses and to some extent, missing files but “mediation offers the possibility of avoiding those plagues.”
He said in the event that the mediation did not result in a settlement, litigants needed to be assured that their information would not be disclosed and that nothing that was said would be used against them.
Director of the Mediation Centre, Colin Chichester said the process was straightforward but it had to be in the court system where the judge would decide whether the matter was ready for mediation. The parties would instruct their lawyers if they are willing to settle.
Chichester said he hoped the rate of settlement would increase in Guyana and called on lawyers to orient litigants about the process. He noted that in other countries the rate of settlement was quite high.
The director urged Berbicians to embrace the process in order for it to move forward and said the centre would be established to ensure that mediation becomes a part of Berbice.
Canadian mediation consultant, Richard Moore, who came to Guyana in 2002 with the Carter Center, said he explored the idea of “bringing the conflict resolution process to Guyana” and subsequently the lawyers were trained.
He said he returned and did further training and he was happy that 21 of the 25 mediators were still in the programme.
Moore said that last week he had an opportunity to observe how the mediators “moved forward with their skills and was stunned with the depth of the knowledge and skills they have shown.” He is also working with them to become mediator trainers.
A mediator, attorney-at-law Jamela Ali, in outlining the benefits, said mediation was introduced in Guyana with the hope that it would reduce the backlog of cases and that through the process, matters would be heard quickly.
She said too that mediation offered an informal setting and gave the parties an opportunity to tell their sides of the story. Also making brief remarks were Stephen Weller of the Carter Center and attorney-at-law Randolph Kirton who represented the Guyana Bar Association.
Participants expressed satisfaction that the centre would be established in Berbice and attorney-at-law John Persaud commented that “…alternative dispute resolution is a must and would benefit everyone.”
Magistrate Krishendat Persaud said he has resuscitated five peace committees – panchayaat – on the Corentyne to deal with magisterial cases and wanted to know if recognition would be given to the committees.
The chancellor responded that he was aware of the groups and that they are “exceptionally commendable…” and he was willing to have members of the committees trained.