Government’s lack of funds has forced the judiciary to put the brakes on a major initiative designed to significantly reduce the backlog in the courts.
But Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson announced today that Trinidad and Tobago could be coming to the rescue to allow the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) to get off the ground.
Expressing his displeasure at the turn of events, Sir Marston told judicial officers and jurors at the opening of the 2014/2015 legal year in the No. 1 Supreme Court this morning said that it would cost a quarter million dollars from the judiciary’s budget just to train one clerk now that Government had backed out of its commitment.
“When we had met with a sub-committee of Cabinet, chaired by the Attorney General [Adriel Brathwaite] . . . we were given to understand that the post of ADR Coordinator would be created and the coordinator will run the ADR programme for the courts,” he said.
“However, within months of that meeting, we were informed that, given the perilous economic conditions, no new post would be created and that we should select someone already working with the court to essentially double up and perform the ADR coordinator’s job. We did so and began making arrangements for the clerk, who we selected to go overseas to be trained for a week,” he added, noting that funding was sourced from an agency working in conjunction with the University of the West Indies because there was no money in the Training Division for that purpose.
“But when we asked for the cost of training an ADR clerk for a week, we were told an astounding figure of US$125,000. When I sought clarification – as perhaps there may have been an additional or misplaced zero – I was told US$125,000 was accurate, but that ‘‘we could negotiate’.”
Sir Marston said he could not justify spending that kind of money to train a clerk for a week when, for just over BDS$85,000, he was able to bring in two trainers for an entire week to train ADR mediators.
He pointed out that sum included airfare, hotel accommodation, per diems and fees.
“So the launch of the ADR programme must wait until we find training,” the country’s top judicial administrator announced.
However, Sir Marston reported that all was not lost.
Pledging not to abandon the programme, he said that with the assistance of Trinidad and Tobago’s Chief Justice Ivor Archie, a trainer had been identified and “all things being equal”, he would be brought here to carry out the necessary training.
“But we wouldn’t name that trainer until we have actually got to . . . the negotiation and got a sense of how much we are talking about spending,” he said, adding that officials from the Dispute Resolution Foundation in Jamaica had successfully trained eight local mediators who were now ready, willing and able to start working in the ADR programme.
Sir Marston said he was disappointed with the pace at which cases were being adjudicated in the courts – a problem, he said, he was certain could be resolved with the implementation of ADR.
“For example, in 2012 we had annual civil filings of 3,938 cases comprising, 2,273 civil cases, 472 divorce applications and 1,193 probate applications,” he disclosed, adding that there were 20,656 filings in the magistrates’ courts.
The chief justice also reiterated his intention to remove all those cases from the “civil stream” which ought to be settled out of court, leaving only the ones that need to be handled by judges.