Jamaica: Dispute Resolution Foundation Achieving Success in Mediating Conflicts
The Dispute Resolution Foundation's (DRF) 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 Mediation
Today, 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."
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.
15th Anniversary Celebration
This 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.
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."