By: Linda Branch, The Barbados Advocate

Mediation as an alternative means of settling disputes will become part of Barbados’ judicial landscape in the near future in an effort to save time and money, a judiciary representative said yesterday.

“We haven’t made the decision yet as to whether it will be compulsory or not, but there will be some provisions for mediation in the new rules,” stated Chief Justice Sir David Simmons. He explained that putting a court connected mediation system in place was a component of the Justice Improvement Project setting new rules of court to improve the judicial process.

“The ADR (alternative dispute resolution) is now a very contemporary mechanism used in the common law world to assist in settling disputes rather than pursuing the disputes by way of litigation in court,” added Sir David. “It is happening in the region already and that is where I want to take Barbados”.

Although disputing parties would still have the right to continue through the court system should they desire, the use of a mediator at an early junction of the litigation process was viewed as an option that could be advantageous for all involved.

“It is a way of keeping down costs and taking a lot of the acrimony out of litigation and it saves a tremendous amount of court time,” said the Chief Justice.

The discussed establishment of a mediation system would complement a move by the judiciary to take case management out of the hands of lawyers and place the managing of caseloads under the responsibilities of judges. Sir David believes these tandem changes would help cases to be more speedily addressed.

“It takes too long between filing a case and hearing it and our determination, within I would say the next 18 months, is to start to change that to make sure that the time between filing the case and having it heard and completed is perhaps no more than 18 months,” stated the Chief Justice. Sir David noted that Sir Dennis Byron, Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, had already implemented with success what Barbados was now discussing.

Sir Simmons made these comments during the second day of a two-day seminar, held at the Amaryllis Beach Resort, to educate judges and magistrates about the mediation process and case management. The seminar was led by Master Calum MacLeod, Superior Court of Justice in Ontario, Canada and Allan Stitt, head of Stitt Feld Handy Group in Toronto which specializes in mediating disputes.

As a Master in Ontario’s court system, MacLeod explained that he managed cases and heard trial motions as well as supervised the mandatory mediation system process for civil disputes. Since the programmes’s implementation in 1997, he said an estimated 40 per cent of civil cases were settled through mediation. With the average civil case taking four years to reach trial and costing some $40,000 per party, Master MacLeod said mediation offered a fair and just alternative for litigants.

In addition to a seminar tomorrow for members of the bar association, Sir Simmons said there would be an additional seminar in January for members of the public who have an interest in mediating. He noted that there were funds available under the Justice Improvement Project for the training of mediators.