Mediation Centre ready for business
Stabroek News
February 16, 2004

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Resolving disputes though mediation is gaining advocates given that the process can be quicker than going through a backlogged court system and because it also attempts to satisfy all parties involved.

The initiative is being directed by the recently launched Mediation Centre of Guyana which is now ready to begin taking cases. It is supported by the Supreme Court and the Carter Center, Guyana

Attorney Teni Housty, one of 25 lawyers who underwent a three-day training programme, says alternative methods of settling disputes are practised throughout the world with `arbitration' being the most popular route in Guyana, albeit in the field of industrial relations.

Those seeking information on mediation can contact Mediation Co-ordinator Colin Chichester at the Supreme Court Registry and on telephone nos. 227-2565 and 624-3084.

In the process of arbitration, one person makes a decision/award and everyone involved is expected to abide by it.

"[However], mediation is more solution-oriented in that all parties involved contribute directly to the final agreement. [It] allows all parties to address underlying issues that may otherwise be lost in the dispute mode in an informal setting."

According to Housty, the specific case is first examined by the court and based on this, the file is referred to the Mediation Co-ordinator.

At this stage, the lawyers representing the respective parties must agree on a mediator from a list and the co-ordinator then schedules a meeting between the mediator, lawyers and their clients.

A notice is delivered directly to each party indicating when and where the process will take place. Housty says the usual time limit set for the mediation is three hours though the process can take much longer.

At the beginning of the mediation process, all parties, including the mediator, must sign an agreement, and based on the final consensus of the parties in dispute, a corresponding order of court is made at the end of the process.

Housty says the lawyer's role in the process is to generate creative options and assist in facilitating and guiding the parties involved toward a reasonable compromise.

Despite the informality of mediation, the process is a confidential one, Housty assures. He says there is also provision for each party to have separate discourse with the mediator in the absence of the other party. Further, the mediator cannot be called upon to testify about the details of that discourse without the permission of the specific party.

"If the mediation does not work out, the option of returning to court is always open."

Key to the success of the mediation, Housty notes, is that the parties involved must be in a position, legally, to consent to the final agreement.

He points out that not every case is suitable for mediation but notes that for those for which it is likely to work, it can be seen as a preferable in light of the current case backlog.

For a limited time the mediators are volunteering their services which means that the only cost to the litigant will be for his/her lawyer to attend the hearing. A booklet prepared for the Mediation Centre says that in St Lucia over 65% of mediations result in settlement. Additionally, for those persons who are uncomfortable or fearful of a court room situation, mediation is a simple solution.

The pilot project was started after overseas consultants from the Carter Center visited Guyana last September and carried out some groundwork to determine whether mediation could be useful.

Housty says Melanie Reimer from the local Carter Center played a major role in getting the project off the ground.