Against the background of high levels of gun violence and a backlog of court cases, local officials are ramping up efforts in support of community mediation.
Officials of the IMPACT Justice Project In association with the Barbados Community College (BCC), held a final workshop on Monday, providing community mediation training for just over 20 people from across the country who are well-respected in their communities.
Regional Director for the IMPACT Justice Project Professor Velma Newton said the mediation training was introduced based on the findings of a regional alternative dispute resolution survey done in 2014, which cited a backlog in civil and criminal cases as a major impediment to the access to justice.
“We felt that with an increase in gun violence in our country, we should try once again to introduce community leaders to mediation techniques,” said Newton, who noted that the intention was to train at least two individuals from each parish and “a larger number” from St Michael.
She said while it was widely accepted and recognised that alternative dispute resolution was an effective way of lessening some of the backlog in court cases, progress in that area in the region has been stymied due to several issues.
Among those matters impacting progress she identified under-funded alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, absence of mandatory referrals to mediation, a relative absence of restorative justice programmes, a lack of specialised trained individuals to deliver alternative dispute resolution services and a lack of sustained public education programmes.
Monday’s community mediation training formed part of the wider IMPACT Justice Project, which was introduced in 2014 to help reform the justice system and improve access to justice in the Caribbean.
It falls under the alternative dispute resolution component. Other components include legislative and treaty drafting and legal education and information. Various training sessions were conducted among various government departments over the years.
Addressing participants at the BCC location on Monday, Prime Minister Mia Mottley stressed the need to “move away from a Victorian approach to justice”.
“We cannot continue into the 21st century with a 19th century approach to justice,” she said.
At the same time, she insisted that it required a multi-faceted approach to dealing with conflict. According to her, while it was the role of the justice system to process cases at a faster rate and the police force to do more community policing, it was also up to the community and households to play a role.
“Ultimately, the fight against violence is a fight of each and everyone of us at the community level – how we raise our children, how we resolve conflict in our household and how we use language,” she said.
“We have, therefore, to work harder to get each and everyone to understand that expression of feelings and the ability to mediate with others where those feelings are in conflict with others is absolutely critical to the passage of life. If we are going to train our children to come through the rights of passage to become adults, then we need to be training them from as early as in primary schools and secondary schools as to how to express themselves and to resolve disputes,” she explained.
“If we want to win the battle against violence, if we want to transform this country, if we want to ensure that the gains that we are getting in other aspects of our lives become sustainable, then we need to pause and be able to commit – each and everyone of us – to being able to be better at how we resolve conflict, to be better at how we express anger and disappointment [and] to be able to control jealousy,” said Mottley.
She welcomed the mediation workshop and noted that , Attorney General Dale Marshall was tasked with the responsibility, after consultation, to determine what offences and conflicts would be referred to mediation.
This, she said, was to ensure that “we do not have to continue to overburden a heavily-burdened criminal and civil justice system”.
She said she was hoping that recently-appointed Minister of State in the Office of the Attorney General with responsibility for Crime Prevention Corey Lane would work closely with other social sector ministries to address the issue of crime.
Meanwhile, Principal of the BCC Annette Alleyne announced that community mediation training will be added to the curriculum of that institution.
She said she understood the role that the intervention of key influential individuals can play in the deescalation of a potentially volatile situation.
“If there was ever a time that we needed community mediation it is now – now where tempers flare over the slightest insults, where voices of the vulnerable are sometimes muted and where persons who are at [odds] with somebody else might opt to take matters into their own hands rather than being involved in an overburdened judicial system,” said Alleyne. (MM)