Thursday, August 13, 2015

          Bringing Court Mediation to Countries around the World

          The 4th annual International Court Mediation Institute recently welcomed representatives from 11 countries who gathered to learn about designing court mediation programs from August 10 - 14, 2015.

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          Participants left to right: Maciej Taniski from Poland, Jiang Liping from China, Harrison Mutabazi from Rwanda, Mahmoud Mourad from Egypt.

          The Center for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution’s (CNDR) one-of-a-kind Institute hosted judges, mediators and court administrators from Austria, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Georgia, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Rwanda, and Vietnam during a weeklong intensive academic program that equips attendees with the knowledge and tools to envision, design and implement court mediation programs in their home countries.

          Sheila Purcell '86, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of CNDR, helped found and teaches the Institute with co-faculty and fellow UC Hastings’ alumni Claudia Bernard ’86, the Chief Circuit Mediator for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and Howard Herman ’83, Director, ADR Program, United States District Court, Northern District of California. He is also the new Chair of the American Bar Association’s Dispute Resolution Section. The three lawyers are well-known leaders and educators in the field of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

          Mediation programs can give parties greater control of their cases and can save courts and parties substantial time and money by encouraging adversaries to talk directly to one another with the assistance of a neutral mediator. The concept of using ADR to resolve disputes translates across cultures, unlike many other areas of law, which are more constrained by countries’ own legal procedures. “In some ways it’s audacious to think that people from 11 different countries with vastly different legal systems can learn from us and each other, but there are common elements that every court needs to grapple with when establishing mediation programs,” remarked Purcell.

          The participating countries are at different stages in their court mediation programs. Some boast established initiatives while others are first contemplating how to design them. Faculty teach this hands-on and interactive Institute by offering an overview of ADR practice, assisting participants in assessing needs in their systems, explaining the elements of program design, addressing implementation issues faced by mediation programs and advising participants on ongoing program development.

          In addition to the coursework, participants visit the faculty members’ courts to see the physical facilities, meet judges and ask questions of people who are involved in mediation on a daily basis. The three faculty members also provide technical assistance consultations to the participants. “The consultations are the most unique aspect of our program. We look at the attendees’ plans and provide advice. In the six months following the Institute, we remain available to provide additional consultation via email and Skype,” said Purcell.

          Although not every participant returns to mount a full court mediation program, most of them apply the lessons learned. And some former participants have had great success getting programs off the ground. One participant from Armenia received funding from the country’s Ministry of Justice and created a five-year strategic plan that that USAID is helping fund. Another participant from South Africa started a small claims mediation clinic for low-income people. A judge from Mozambique has asked Purcell, Herman and Bernard to visit his country to help implement new laws to promote mediation. “Working with judges and lawyers from across the globe has made me realize how much change can be driven by individuals with vision and determination,” remarked Herman.  

          Comparing the Institute to a small Model UN, Purcell appreciates that its value derives not only from the course work, but also from the learning opportunities the participants receive from one other. Bernard concurred, “By far the most rewarding aspect of the program is spending an intense week with thoughtful, curious, engaged judges and lawyers from all over the globe. The relationships have been incredibly rewarding. I learn as much from them as they do from me.”

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