Community mediation is now available in Barbados, as the service was launched on Wednesday in the latest effort to improve the justice system.
The introduction of the alternative dispute resolution service should help to minimise the number of cases going before the law courts, said officials speaking at the launch at the Sagicor School of Business and Management.
The service, which is being offered under the Canadian-funded Improve Access to Justice in the Caribbean (IMPACT Justice), began on August 4.
The sessions are being offered at the Speightstown Resource Centre Church in Speightstown and the Calvary Moravian in Roebuck Street.
Community mediation is a voluntary process through which parties involved in a dispute are assisted by a trained neutral third party (a mediator) to reach a mutually agreed solution to their issues.
Officials are hoping that the community mediation will maintain harmony in the community, resolve disputes before they escalate, preserve relationships and divert cases from the court system.
The community mediation service is expected to assist with the resolution of family and community disputes including juvenile conflicts, landlord and tenant conflicts, conflicts among families, partners and neighbours, and disputes with homeowners and hire purchase agreements.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Community Empowerment Yolande Howard said she was hoping that more mediation centres would be opened soon.
Thanking the Canadian government for its support in this and other projects over the years, Howard said it was one deemed to be extremely important to Barbados.
She said there was a noticeable increase in tension among individuals in recent times and she believed mediation would play a critical role in helping to solve those frictions.
“One of the things that comes out when engaging the young people is the number of cases of poor self-esteem, poor self-confidence, the conflicts and tensions which exist both within homes and within their environments within their communities and other communities,” said Howard.
“We are seeing more tensions than we would have been seeing before and it is not just the level of tension but the kinds of tensions we are seeing, to the point now where when we plan programmes we have to be very careful if we are planning in community ‘A’ we have to be conscious of the tension that community have with Community ‘B’,” she added.
Howard said she was hoping the initiative would help to reduce the number of youth in prison and the amount of money being spent there.
Deputy Commissioner of Police Erwin Boyce described the community mediation service as another step towards helping members of the community to “function effectively”.
He promised that every effort would be made to retrain and retool police officers to be better able to handle domestic disputes, intimate partner violence and community problems as the RBPF deepens its partnership with the IMPACT Justice initiative.
Pointing out that the majority of the more than 50,000 annual calls to the RBPF had to do with domestic disputes, Boyce said the time had come for “a more efficient way” in handling those complaints.
“That is why we are working to partner with this project without hesitation, since we recognize that many of our response mediation is decaying,” he said, suggesting that in some instances there was “sloppy service from the police”.
“We are as strong as our weakest link. Some of our links might need retraining and retooling so sometimes we do get complaints of inept service. Judging from this, we recognise that some of our officers are not as trained as you thought they were in terms of communication and delivery of community services,” he added.
Canada’s High Commissioner Marie Legault said she was aware that one of the main challenges in the justice system was a backlog of cases.
And she said while there were myriad reasons for the backlog, it could be likened “in a way to justice being denied” especially if those cases were being held up for several years.
“There are few programmes that are done in the context of community settings. So I am very happy to be here today, this is the purpose of today’s event to know that we are looking at the community setting which is important,” High Commissioner Legault said, adding that she hoped “the new points of the service centre will be very helpful for the region and the country”.
The IMPACT Justice project, which began in 2014, was designed primarily to increase the public’s access to justice.