There has been much talk, discussion and debate about the state of the justice system in Saint Lucia (and indeed the wider Caribbean). The situation becomes most glaring when the number of prisoners on remand is exposed. Presently there are more than 350 inmates on remand at the Bordelais Correctional Facility. This figure represents just over fifty percent of the population at BCF, a facility originally built to accommodate 450 inmates.
At the other end of the spectrum is the length of time it takes to bring ‘petty’ crimes before the courts, in addition to the backlog already being experienced in major cases. A number of solutions have been proposed in the past, including the establishment of a night court for ‘small cases’ but all to no avail.
But now a new proposal is being brought to governments in the region, including Saint Lucia, which if accepted can see the speeding up of some cases, through a mediation process. The Mediation Legislation Committee of the Canadian Government-funded project Improved Access to Justice in the Caribbean (IMPACT Justice) met in Saint Lucia on Thursday December 17th to discuss a ‘Model Mediation Bill’ drafted by IMPACT Justice in response to requests by several CARICOM governments for mediation legislation. IMPACT Justice, which is a regional justice sector reform project, is being implemented from within the Caribbean Law Institute Centre, UWI, Cave Hill Campus.
IMPACT Justice wants to alleviate the backlog in Saint Lucia’s courts. By training community leaders in mediation skills, the objective is to resolve civil matters totally outside of the courtroom. The aims of Thursday’s Mediation Legislation Committee meeting were to solicit feedback from Government representatives and other stakeholders on the Draft Model Mediation Bill to inform amendments, and to agree on a way forward for finalisation of the draft Model Mediation Bill, with a view of its adoption by CARICOM Member States.
On Thursday the legislative drafter presented the Model Mediation Bill to Committee Members. The Committee comprises representatives of the Attorneys General, the CARICOM Secretariat, the OECS Assembly, the OECS Commission and the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. A Supreme Court Registrar and a representative of an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) association in the region are also on the Committee.
Speaking to the STAR following the meeting, Velma Newton, who is the Regional Project Director, said that she felt the meeting went well. “However, we were hoping that we would have gotten much further in the discussions than we did, ahead of another meeting planned for January,” Newton said. She explained that the Bill, as discussed, seeks to introduce the standardization of mediation in the region at the community level. “The whole idea is to have certain matters settled outside of court using well respected persons from within the community to preside over these matters,” Newton added.
These mediators will be trained and accredited but will be separate from what currently exists as a mediation system within the regular court system. If all goes well at the next meeting in January, the draft Mediation Bill will then be submitted to Attorneys General in the region for final perusal and consent. Much is being placed on this new initiative and much will be required by the political directorate to lend its support if there is to be any reprieve in our justice system anytime soon.