In a rural Jamaican district a man, alleged to be a goat thief, is nabbed by citizens, who are about to hand down their own brand of justice. A boy and his mother on hearing the commotion rush to the scene and beg for the man’s life. They then begin to tell their story; a story of how conflict resolution and mediation had changed their lives.
This is how the work of the Dispute Resolution Foundation, through its dedicated, hardworking staff of administrators and mediators has touched thousands of lives around the island, teaching ordinary citizens how to deal with situations such as the one above for more positive outcomes.
Executive Director of the Foundation, Donna Parchment tells JIS News that, “people have found that being involved in this process (mediation) gave them a chance to understand their own conflicts better, the way they handle conflicts in their own work and home situations and understanding how they respond to conflicts might cause them to escalate and how to reduce the impact in terms of crime and violence in their communities”.
Beverly Haylett, Mediation Coordinator for the Dispute Resolution Foundation (DRF) and Sophia Skeen, Administrator for the Trench Town Mediation Centre,on the job at the DRF headquarters in Kingston.
Citing examples, she points out that after the recent flare-ups in Flankers, St. James, trained community mediators met and brainstormed about what had happened as well as engaged the police and government personnel in discussions, to determine how they would handle the situation.
“People get satisfaction from being able to help chart the course in their own local area. They feel empowered because their skills are improved and being involved suggests to the public that they are respected, positive contributors. I am energized by how the community responds to its own ability to take control of its issues, all across Jamaica,” Miss Parchment says.
Groups of mediators operate in every parish across the island, each at different levels of organization and service delivery. In St. Catherine, the Foundation has trained approximately 120 mediators, most of whom utilize their skills in their workplaces, service clubs, churches and other areas. Hanover has a full mediation centre while St. James and Kingston have two centres. In the other parishes, there are active groups of mediators delivering services.
The Executive Director explains that the Foundation is equipped to deliver different services that are suitable for every situation. For example, she says, the DRF provides expertise in relation to commercial disputes, by showing employees how they can become more effective in managing conflicts by working through their unions.
“This is in keeping with what is happening on the global scale, because if we look at what is happening all over the world, mediation is how commercial disputes are being resolved (in the boardroom rather than in the courtroom), but yet having the judgment filed in court, so that enforceability is protected by the normal judicial process” Miss Parchment points out.
She informs further, that countries such as Hong Kong, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, use mediation as a norm in legal practice. She notes that in some of these jurisdictions, legislation requires attorneys to use mediation before they can approach a judge. An evaluation of the mediation process in Toronto’s superior courts found that over 40 per cent of cases were settled at mediation, regardless of what the dispute was about.
“In addition to that, there has been substantial case load developed around the world in terms of the implications of an attorney not offering mediation to their clients and really how important it is to us as attorneys to have an array of resource, skills and services that we can offer to our clients to give them the best outcome to their issues” she says further.
She notes that it was in 2003 that the DRF implemented a mediation pilot programme at the Supreme Court (civil division).
The programme is part of the Legal Reform Project, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Government of Jamaica and is also being implemented in Trench Town and Flankers. It is expected to end in August of this year.
As of last month, fewer than 50 cases have been referred for mediation under this project and the DFR head hopes that through a public education effort now in place, targeted at the bar and litigants, the number of cases settled through mediation will increase. She informs that a number of workshops have already been held this year with the bar association and with the Supreme Court bench.
Reflecting on work done last year, Miss Parchment tells JIS News that under the Legal Reform Project, the Foundation did extensive work in the Eastern Caribbean and worked with a variety of other groups such as the University of the West Indies (UWI) where DRF staff delivered guest lectures on campus as well as through the UWI’s distance learning facilities, delivering courses to 18 territories in the region.
In addition, the Foundation collaborated on the Citizens Security and Justice project, which is to be operated in some 16 corporate area communities.The DRF also worked with the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) and continues to host the staff of the PMI at its South Camp Road facilities, providing office space and additional support services for their work. The Foundation participated in a human rights forum hosted by the Ministry of Justice early in 2003, as well as the Ministry of National Security’s youth advisory process.
In addition, the Foundation collaborated with the Office of the Prime Minister on a consultation code and supported the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) civic scenario dialogue process called ‘Jamaica 21, Secure and Prosperous’.
Also through the Social Conflict and Legal Reform Project, Miss Parchment says, the DRF worked with the Peace And Love in Schools (PALS) programme and developed a mediation curriculum to be used in teacher’s colleges. That curriculum is currently being tested at Sam Sharpe and St. Joseph’s teachers’ colleges. She informs that the Foundation has also been a service provider for the Peace and Prosperity Project established by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Kingston Restoration Company (KRC).
“Throughout the year, people saw value in our work and we were kept extremely busy,” Miss Parchment remarks, adding, “another outstanding thing is that a lot of international donor partners and international entities have come into Jamaica and have advocated for this kind of work and the need for conflict resolution to be embedded and institutionalized here”.
Early 1995 to late September 2002 saw over 8000 persons receiving training or service, in Jamaica, Belize, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Vincent & Barbados. These participants included teachers, students, lay magistrates, community leaders, inmates, correctional service officers, attorneys, corporate executives, managers, line staff and young persons.
The organization delivers a variety of services including administration, management, marketing, and the coordination and delivery of mediation training and education, as well as research information for university students. “On a daily basis, we mediate disputes that come to us from the Kingston and St. Andrew Magistrate’s Court criminal and civil division, and cases from the Family and Supreme Courts,” Miss Parchment says. “We also deliver training whether it is full certification programmes of 40 hours, or shorter sensitization courses to people here or at their workplaces or other venues,” she adds.
She says further that, “when we promote restorative justice, mediation, and alternative dispute resolution, it is because as a country, development is running at a level that could be enhanced if we were listening to one another more effectively. So, we want to support the efforts of government, civil society, business community, unions and every single Jamaican who finds that conflict may be an impediment to their ability to fulfill their potential”.
Miss Parchment indicates that there are plans to forge closer partnerships with the church community. “We are hoping that there will be an opportunity to engage more closely with the entire church community because we believe that this is the largest constituency in Jamaica and on this issue of how we handle all conflicts, the church could see a connection between the work that we do and its own mission,” she reasons.
Meanwhile Administrator of the Trench Town Peace and Justice Centre, Sophia Skeen, informs JIS News that some 130 persons have received mediation since the Trench Town Mediators Association was launched last year. The peace centre is temporarily located at the DRF’s offices.
She says a number of activities such as barbecues, community meetings and a festival have been held to further sensitize the community about mediation and the value of conflict resolution. “Our presence is being felt slowly but surely,” she notes.
Formerly the Mediation Council of Jamaica, the Dispute Resolution Foundation was incorporated in July of 1994 to increase cooperation in the management and resolution of disputes involving businesses, the police, courts, social service agencies and the people, through the controlled process of mediation.