Pilot project to cut case backlog in court launched

Cases already selected for mediators
By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
October 17, 2003

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The Mediation Pilot Project which aims to cut the case backlog in the court system was launched yesterday at a ceremony at the High Court Library.

The project will run until February and is an initiative of the Supreme Court of Judicature, being carried out in collaboration with the Carter Center with funding from the USAID.

Chief Justice Carl Singh chairs the committee, which is overseeing the implementation of the project being co-ordinated by the Court Manager, Colin Chichester. In his remarks at the launching Justice Singh indicated that he had already selected four or five cases which would be passed to Chichester to get the ball rolling.

The Chief Justice recalled his commitment at the ceremony at the Court of Appeal at which himself and Chancellor of Judiciary, Desiree Bernard, were welcomed to their new offices, to implement a system of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

According to the Chief Justice, ADR is an alternative to the traditional trial procedure. Mediation is one of the methods of ADR, which the Chief Justice said was a confidential process by which a neutral and objective mediator helps the disputing parties to negotiate and find their own solution to the dispute, but did not make any judgement on the case in question. Unlike arbitration where the arbitrator does decide the outcome, the Chief Justice explained, “in mediation the case only settles if all parties agree. In addition to considering legal rights, the parties’ underlying broader interests will be considered, to produce more creative settlements than a court could order.”

Singh added that lawyers “play an important role in mediation, helping the clients to assess settlement options and make an informed decision.”

He stressed that in the Pilot Project, the “mediation process will be entirely voluntary for all parties, and will be limited to civil matters that have already been filed in the High Court (or Bail Court) and fall within its jurisdiction.”

He stressed too, “no party will be forced to accept mediation at any stage of the pilot project and no legal rights will be prejudiced by any involvement or referral to mediation.”

He emphasised that “there is no compulsion in mediation. The exercise is entirely voluntary. The parties must agree to go to mediation; must agree on the choice of mediator, and are at liberty to withdraw from mediation.”

He said that the decision to go to mediation or the decision to withdraw would be without prejudice to the undoubted entitlement of the litigant to go back to the trial process.

He was happy that the category of persons who were trained as mediators were attorneys practising in Guyana because the legal profession, which complains about the tardy delivery of decisions in the High Court, will, by virtue of the mediation process, now be on test as to how well they produce timely decisions. He advised that timeliness was the underlying consideration of mediation decisions.

Singh expressed his confidence that the mediation initiative would impact in a significant way in reducing the backlog of cases that filled the courts.

He expressed confidence too that mediation and the entire scheme of ADR would become a part of the country’s legal scene and be entrenched in the country’s legal culture.

Dr Michael Sarhan, the USAID director, described mediation as an effective means of achieving the goal of providing equitable, timely and inexpensive access to justice by all persons.

Sarhan said that the success of the mediation project would serve as a catalyst for further reform of the justice sector and that perhaps in time other bolder approaches to improving justice delivery could be undertaken by extending reforms to criminal cases and to include plea-bargaining and other methods for the successful and timely disposition of cases.

Dr Sarhan also stressed that in a healthy democratic society it was important for citizens to have access to timely and equitable justice as it fosters confidence in the government and in so doing motivates the citizen to become more involved in government.

“A more effective judicial system also serves transparency by removing a major area of illicit dealings and restoring accountability for illegal activities which the vast majority of Guyanese citizens believe is the proper role of the justice system.”

He noted that to the extent that the pilot projects such as this one prove fruitful, the US government and USAID in the new five-year programme beginning next year would continue to support ADR and other reforms.

Professor Peter Britton, who chaired the committee set up by the Chancellor of the Judiciary to explore the various forms of ADR and to make recommendations as to the form that should be adopted, was another of the speakers at yesterday’s ceremony.

Describing himself as an unrepentant believer in ADR, Britton recalled the article he had written for the Guyana Law Review and which was reprinted, after he was persuaded by then Head of the UG law Department, Calvin Eversley, in the Guyana Review.

He said that ADR was introduced last year, three years after the University of the West Indies, as part of the UG LL.B programme, and that the draft Rules of Court, drawn up by former Chancellor of the Judiciary Kenneth George had provided for ADR as part of the High Court procedure in a manner not dissimilar to that of the United Kingdom.

Among those present at yesterday’s ceremony were Justices Winston Moore, Claudette La Bennett, Yonette Cummings, and Jainarayan Singh Jr, President of the Guyana Bar Association, Khemraj Ramjattan, attorneys Clarissa Riehl, Basil Williams, Lloyd Joseph, James Bovell-Drakes, and former Speaker of the National Assembly Sase Narain.

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