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Aug 1, 2014

Justice Stakeholders Hold Mediation Forum…

The Supreme Court is advancing mediation as an option to reach early settlement in civil case matters.  The court believes that mediation is a win-win situation since it would reduce costs among parties and would clear up the backlog in cases. In fact, it is felt that chances of settlement are high in court ordered mediation.  This morning, a forum was held at the Belize Best Western Biltmore Plaza; Justice Courtenay Abel addressed the gathering on the pros of mediation.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

It’s not exactly a brand new method of resolution, but it is a relatively new concept in civil matters at the Supreme Court level. And where civil disputes are concerned, mediation is shaping up to be not only a viable option, but possibly the option of choice. Today senior judicial representatives including Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, attorneys, mediators and mediation stakeholders joined in a forum on that topic – sort of an awareness and enhancement sessions. Supreme Court Justice Courtney Abel is one of the chief proponents of mediation, and he says it’s not even really about helping with the backlog.

 

Courtney Abel

Courtney Abel, Supreme Court Justice

“It is a better means of arriving at a just result and a result which is satisfactory to the parties, which builds relationships, and it provides a permanent solution than the trial process because the trial process as you know, apart from anything else, can take a long time, it’s very costly, it damages relationships…and it can be appealed. The result of a mediation – an order from a mediation is in effect a consent order which in most cases can’t be appealed, which brings the matter to an end. So the benefits are enormous, other than backlog, but that is one of the benefits, the reduction of backlog.”

 

So at what point does mediation enter the picture? Well, it can be ordered at any time – during the case management stage, after a trial but before a judge enters a decision, and even at the appeal stage. In terms of court connected mediation, those persons are specifically trained in court cases – civil cases within the Supreme Court System. Currently there are fifty-two such specially trained mediators.

 

Consuelo Godfrey

Consuelo Godfrey, Trustee, Steering Committee

“Our mediators have had intense training…this is not just something they do in a day. In some cases they’ve had almost one hundred hours of training in dealing with civil matters. Attorneys – I give them kudos, they know their stuff, and they are trained in dealing with litigation matters and dealing with criminal cases. With mediation on the other hand though, you have these mediators who are from these different, vast sectors of society – education, business, some even in the legal field, finance field…and so a litigator is very good at doing court cases, litigation and all of that. A mediator now, takes on a different role. They are more there as objective parties to get the litigants or disputants, depending on what you’re doing, to come in and try to find the common ground – almost a sense of let me hear your interests, let me hear your needs, let us see where we can meet halfway, so mediators are trained at getting parties to do this.”

 

The Bar Association appears to be fully on board with mediation, or at least willing to take it for a test drive.

 

Senior Counsel Michael Young, Attorney

Michael Young

“What has happened traditionally, and this comes even from the British practice way back, is that we have an adversarial system, so when two parties go to court they go to court fighting and with their legal guns. That is not necessarily the best way to bring that dispute to an end in a way which does not cost too much money and does not take too long. Mediation is a wonderful alternative to that.”

 

For some attorneys, including Senior Counsel Michael Young, it is the best way of reaching a resolution in the shortest possible time, with the least cost to the parties involved.

 

Senior Counsel Michael Young

“When you really look at litigation not only in Belize but in so many other parts of the world, you will find that at time litigants will die without any determination or resolution of their disputes. What this does, and of course you have to have an effective and an efficient litigation process, but that involves many technicalities, rules of evidence and that sort of thing…if you can have processes in between that will bring the parties somehow together to explore the possibility of settlement, then you can have these matters being ended more quickly and with less cost.”

 

And in the event that you’re wondering about mediators with an agenda, political or otherwise, who may seek to manipulate certain court cases in the favour of certain parties, Justice Abel puts paid to that speculation.

 

Courtney Abel

“A mediator does not decide a case. They have no powers of decision-making…none. it forms no part of their brief. So there’s no risk that the process could become infected by politics or anything like that. All they do is facilitate the parties, try to move the parties toward a settlement. It’s the parties who have to arrive at an agreement. If they’re not happy with the agreement, and they’re usually advised by their lawyers in the process…then there is no agreement. So politics plays no part at all in mediation, and I can confidently say that.”

 

Several big cases recently have been ordered the way of mediation recently, including the Mayan land rights matter and BGYEA…both cases in which G.O.B. is a party. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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