Supreme Court seeks Mediators to decongest Judicial System

Jane Bennett, Justice Courtney Abel and Julianne Ellis-Bradley

The Supreme Court of Belize is opening the door for a new profession in Belize: dispute mediators. In his address at the 2012 Opening of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin spoke about the overwhelming volume of cases that reach before the Court on an annual basis and said that a mediation system may need to be introduced in order to address the problem. There has since been consultations with representatives from various institutions, including the Belize Police Department, Council of Churches, Bar Association, Supreme Court Bench, University of the West Indies and the Belize Family Court in order to establish rules on mediation procedures. Justice Courtney Abel of the Belize Supreme Court says that the Chief Justice is now looking for qualified mediators to conduct Court ordered sessions at $100 an hour.

The Supreme Court will only recognize mediators that have been trained by the University of the West Indies. Jane Bennett, Head of UWI Belize Open Campus, says that the university will be conducting the Court based mediation training from August 5th to 9th of this year. It is a 40-hour course and will be held at 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday. To qualify for the program, an applicant must have a high school diploma and be at least 21 years old. They must have a clean criminal record and have previous mediation training. Julianne Ellis-Bradley will be the facilitator of the course. She says that if someone is interested but do not have previous mediation training, they can sign up for the Intro to Mediation sessions which will be held during the week of July 29th. The cost of the Intro to Mediation sessions is $375 and the cost of the Court-based class is $1,000.

Justice Abel said that the Chief Justice is extremely committed to the program-so committed that he encourages those without the necessary finance to go ahead and apply for the program and “we will work on the ways and means”. Abel said the mediation program is extremely important because “it will unclog the court system”. He said there are many minor disputes that take up the Court’s time when “mediation really is the best solution in many cases for a lot of disputes because at the end of the day, the court is in the business of providing justice and the best kind of justice is the one that the parties agree to”. Abel said mediation ends in a settlement more than sixty percent of the time.

Bradley says, “Mediation is a way of ensuring that only those matters that really need the courts’ attention will go to trial for a judge to make a decision.” She continued, “The truth is most times when there is a dispute the parties involved are the ones that really know how to solve it because they know what is the problem; therefore, they know the solution.” She says the course will equip individuals with the necessary skills to address underlying issues in disputes and not just who is right or wrong. She says mediation is far more beneficial than trial because it preserves relationships by allowing the disputing parties to decide on the resolution. It is also more effective according to Justice Abel because in mediation they can really tackle the issues, unlike the Court which is “tied to set procedures”.

The job of a mediator is to be a neutral listener of a dispute. They are to get each side to express their views in order to develop a complete picture that can be understood by all parties involved. If possible, they should try to get the parties to reach an agreement on a resolution or way forward. They will then report the results of the mediation to the Court. If a resolution was reached, the judge will declare it legally binding. If not, the judge may order an additional session or proceed to trial. The conversation in a mediation session is confidential; therefore, it cannot be used in court. The sessions are three hours long and there is a $300 fee for the mediator and a $200 administration fee. Attorneys may be present during sessions.

The deadline for application to the August 5th Court-based mediation course was Monday, June 8th. However, interested individuals may call the UWI Belize Open Campus at 223-0484 to ask about other training opportunities. Those who conclude the UWI program will have the opportunity to get on a roster of Court approved mediators. Mediation sessions in Belize City will take place at the Supreme Court building or at the UWI campus. The Program Coordinator will decide venues for other districts. Mediators will begin to be used as early as September of this year.

The Guardian