Mediation in the Eastern Caribbean received its impetus from the implementation of court reforms introduced in the year 2000. These court reforms included the rules of Civil Procedure for the Civil Court, which provided the requirement that ADR, in particular mediation, be utilized in court cases whenever considered appropriate. These reforms also paved the way for the Practice Direction of 2003 for court-connected mediation.
The Practice Direction made it possible for mediators to be trained and listed on a roster in each of the nine member states and territories of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). After being listed on the roster, mediators became eligible to be assigned to mediate for the court. The Practice Direction required that each mediator have an alternate, who could mediate, if the selected mediator were unable to conduct the mediation.
The Practice Direction also required that the court appoint a Court-Connected Mediation Committee (CCMC), consisting of individuals from major stakeholders of the community including: trade unionists, church representatives, the Chambers of Commerce, the magistracy, the Bar, the Registrar of the High Court, and the High Court Judge who chaired the committee.
As the mediation program rolled out, it needed to be accepted and implemented in each member state of the court. Various committees had to embark upon training mediators and providing campaigns to win acceptance of the idea of mediating legal disputes in the several regional communities.
As mediation took hold, the Court began to collect reports about its impact. Those reports tended to register an average 60% success rate of the Mediation Pilot Program.
As years passed, the CCMs were called upon to organize refresher courses and train new mediators, while responding to shortcomings in the mediation process. Feedback from the court was of great importance.
As with any other human endeavor, there were problems. One was the fact that many mediators had not been assigned to conduct mediation sessions in the High Court. Yet, mediators were needed in the member countries of the Court. This dilemma led to the view that the CCMs should assist mediators in addressing mediation needs within the wider community. The formation of the Mediators Forum, for example, has helped build a relationship between CCMs and the community mediators, who are not used by the courts.
Perhaps a new development in the member state of Saint Lucia will help address this issue. The court is considering compulsory mediation of all new matters filed. If this idea is implemented, there will be a need for many more mediators in the court system.
Mediation is currently being utilized in some criminal matters in Saint Lucia. It is well understood that this practice needs to be closely monitored and properly regulated.
Another recent mediation development is that, as preparation for a future where mediation can be more effective, some regional mediators have been trained to mediate family law matters.
By Justice Francis H.V. Belle, Senior Fellow-Barbados, Weinstein International Foundation