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JIS News

It is 2 o’clock in the afternoon and the Dispute Resolution Foundation’s (DRF) 5 Camp Road headquarters in Kingston is teeming with activity.
Several young people pass by the lobby area on their way to appointments. Arriving in a hurry are high-powered attorneys, whose clients are already waiting and preparing for meetings ahead.
Very few would expect that a facility as unassuming as the Foundation would be so busy on a Wednesday afternoon, or would attract such a wide cross section of visitors. But it does. It is an organisation that knows how to use “small resources to achieve big outcomes,” says Chief Executive Officer, Donna Parchment Brown.
In a report to the Jamaican Bar Association, Mrs. Parchment Brown admits that the state of the building is not on par with the service it offers. Yet, at least 300 persons pass through the Foundation’s headquarters each week to make use of the services, which include mediation and dispute resolution, and support for students with behaviour problems.
Formerly the Mediation Council of Jamaica, the Foundation was set up in July 1994 to increase cooperation in the management and resolution of disputes involving business, the police, courts, social service agencies and citizens, through mediation.
Mrs. Parchment Brown, who has been with the organisation since its inception, notes that when the Foundation was established “nobody knew about mediation” but things have changed since those early days. “One of the biggest symbols of the change is that throughout the region, all the courts now have some requirement for voluntary or automatic mediation for cases,” she points out.
Millions Saved Through MediationToday, millions of dollars are being saved each year through mediation by the Foundation in civil and criminal court cases. Part 74 of the Supreme Court Civil Procedures Rules provides for most cases in the Supreme Court to be referred automatically to mediation, once the first defence is filed. Since automatic referral began in 2007, the number of cases referred from the Supreme Court to the Foundation grew from 104 in 2006 to 969 in 2007, a 931 per cent increase in demand for the Foundation’s services.
The DRF also continues to get referrals from the Resident Magistrate’s and Petty Sessions Courts. At the level of the Supreme Court, the Foundation’s success rate is 57 per cent, while at the level of the Resident Magistrate’s Court, the Foundation has been able to secure an agreement in 76 per cent of cases. Mrs. Parchment Brown tells JIS News that the Foundation has had over 250 attorneys come in to use its services.
In addition, many public and private sector companies “are now using the words, mediation, arbitration, dispute resolution, and saying these are requirements for them to do good business,” she points out.
“As we work, we encourage all of the private sector and the public sector to be more hands on in seeing the cost of conflict, not just something that you pass it over to your attorney and in two or three or four years the matter will be settled,” she adds.
Contribution to Restorative Justice Another area in which the DRF has been making inroads is restorative justice. As the Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer explains: “The philosophy of restorative justice, essentially, is that when harm is done, all the persons affected by the harm should have an opportunity to work together to go beyond the harm.”
Last year, the Foundation provided technical support to the Ministry of Justice to facilitate public consultations geared toward developing a policy on restorative justice for Jamaica. A total of 23 consultations were carried out in all the parishes. It is expected that the Foundation will participate in the 3rd International Restorative Justice Conference, which is scheduled for May 28 and 29 in Kingston.
Support for StudentsThe Foundation is also doing its part to reach at-risk youths and ensure a safer school environment. Its School Suspension Programme offers a lifeline for students, who are out of school for short periods.
Mrs. Parchment Brown says she is very excited about the programme, which is being run in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Ministry of Education to reach 30 target schools through five of its Peace and Justice Centres island wide that offer youth services.
“We are having a number of young people being sent from their schools on suspension and we are providing tailored services to these students. Their parents are also invited in and the feedback from the schools has been really very encouraging,” she shares. She informs that the World Bank and the Commonwealth Foundation have shortlisted the programme as a best practice for keeping boys out of risk.
This year, the Foundation plans to expand its arbitration services, which Mrs. Parchment Brown says has been underutilised. She shares with JIS News that the Foundation is establishing panels with specialised knowledge of the various sectors. These include banking, construction, sports and other areas of expertise. She says the Foundation is working closely with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Caribbean Branch to offer this service.
But the reach of the Foundation in terms of mediation is not limited to Jamaica. “We have worked from Belize to Barbados, from Guyana to The Bahamas, in Trinidad and Tobago, the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) and so on,” Mrs. Parchment Brown tells JIS News. In these countries, the Foundation mostly carries out consultations and training.
Though the DRF maintains a busy schedule it survives, surprisingly, with a core full-time staff of just 20. Mrs. Parchment Brown says the Foundation owes its success to these dedicated workers and a cadre of committed volunteers. “The board members, the subscribers, trainers, we really depend on these full-time/part-time paid and unpaid staff to get the job done,” she points out.
15th Anniversary CelebrationThis year, the Foundation marks its 15th anniversary, in a year proclaimed by former Governor-General, the Most Hon. Professor Sir Kenneth Hall, as the National Year of Dispute Resolution.
To celebrate the milestone, the Foundation will be carrying out several activities, including the launch of parish exhibitions and a schools’ competition; Alternative Dispute Resolution workshops for sports and entertainment leaders; a one-day conference for tourism leaders; a gala awards function in July; a Heroes of Peace family fun day and concert in October; and a thanksgiving service in December. Several parish mediation, and peace and justice centre visits are also scheduled to take place.
The Foundation is also to release the results of a study on the attitudes, concepts and prevalence of conflicts, and violence reduction initiatives in some 30 schools. The Foundation’s head also says the Foundation is working on a series of messages, which will be disseminated via text messaging to youths.
As the Foundation looks to the future, Mrs. Parchment Brown says she is most proud that the organisation has managed to “maintain an image and a reality of being a neutral organisation (and of being) supportive of the Jamaican people in general.”
She says: “the DRF wants to continue to be seen as a valuable resource to Jamaica and to the Caribbean… to be seen as a credible and reliable partner to all those who have an interest in the justice system and in development of our country.”