By Joel Mugabi
Institutions under the Justice and Law Sector (JLOS), especially the Judiciary, are taking the right steps towards promoting mediation in the resolution of cases that would otherwise drag on in courts of law for many years.
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According to the JLOS’ 2020-21 Annual Report, sector players continued prioritizing mediation as a way of ensuring quick disposal of cases. The sector also enhanced the capacity institutions specialized in implementing these initiatives.
Players in the sector strongly believe that mediation is a good practice of Alternative Dispute Resolution practice for all courts. What happens under mediation is that a third party or mediator works towards settling a legal dispute by showing the two conflicting parties points of agreement and convincing them to pursue some sort of a fair middle ground or compromise. Mediation can be undertaken in all civil actions filed in or referred to the Court of Appeal, High Court and any subordinate Court to the High Court. The practice is key in addressing case backlog, and ensuring quick disposal of cases before these temples of justice.
The Judiciary had planned to use Shs467m to foster mediation in commercial court to ease the way of doing business, but it go Shs233.5m. A total of 686 mediation cases were disposed of, 13 failed while 64 were closed. In addition, mediation registers were developed, printed and disseminated.
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By the end of the financial year, the judiciary had completed a total of 4,616 cases through mediation: 2,418 in High Courts, 491 in Chief Magistrate Courts, 152 in Grade One Magistrate Courts.
Just over 700 cases were resolved in family mediation and arbitration. While the Judiciary had planned to resolve 1,000 succession-related wrangles through family mediations and arbitrations to ensure faster disposal, 733 were successfully handled, with the sector blaming the Covid19 pandemic for the failure to meet the set target.
In the same period of reporting, the Mediation Registry trained 37 Mediators in Mpigi and 36 in Masindi to improve of the success rates of mediation cases. The Registry also handled monitoring and evaluation in Central and Western Uganda in the areas of Masaka High Court, Mbarara High Court, Magisterial Courts of Ibanda, Ntungamo, Bushenyi, Rukungiri and Kabale in September 2020; as well as in Northern and Eastern Uganda in the areas of Arua High Court, Gulu High Court, Magisterial areas of Lira, Soroti, Ngora, Kumi and Kabale in December 2020 to track the performance of court accredited mediators and identify challenges as well as any emerging issues.
According to the Registrar in charge of Mediation, three out of every 10 mediations are successfully concluded. Perhaps the number of success stories under mediation could have been more had all civil suits been subject to mediation. But the revised Civil Procedure Rules do not subject every civil matter to mediation.
There would also be more successful stories if all parties in suits under mediation were fully committed to the process. In the JLOS report, Chief Justice Owiny-Dollo’s Judiciary makes it clear that challenges such as non-attendance of parties or litigants during sessions which leads to the closure of cases; inadequate facilitation to the court-accredited mediators especially after the closure of the Rollout Project supported by Government; as well as lack of enough furniture in the mediation rooms and mediation registry, have hindered mediation efforts. For example, the mediation registry has about eight mediation rooms that are used by 10 mediators. On top of this, some of the rooms are not well furnished. The other setback was that most courts do not submit mediation monthly case statistics through the Court Case Administration System (CCAS) and the Individual Judicial Officer’s submission.
“It was therefore recommended that more Mediation sensitization, especially to the stakeholders and advocates be carried out for the litigants to understand the beauty of mediation as compared to litigation,” reads the report in part.
Moving forward, in the current financial year, the sector hopes to implement the recommendation for more sensitization of all stakeholders regarding why they should choose mediation over litigation. The target will be the parties involved in the civil matters as well as their lawyers who the Judiciary hopes to make understand the fact that mediation – as opposed to litigation – saves both time and money since it makes dispute resolution quicker than litigation. In the sensitization meetings, the sector also hopes to explain how mediation could unclog the court system since a number of cases can be resolved within a short time frame.
The Judiciary will also undertake refresher courses for all mediators accredited by courts of law in all regions of Uganda where the mediation model of alternative dispute resolution has been rolled out. The refresher training is meant to give mediators more understanding of the importance and process of mediation. The Judiciary is also seeking funds to procure more furniture such as tables, cabinets and chairs for the Mediators’ Rooms and Mediation Registry to facilitate mediation meetings.
The challenges aside, mediation has saved time and money for the parties involved in some of cases resolved so far. While the ‘normal’ court process can take years in some cases, the commitment of parties in a matter can determine how quickly a case is resolved, and therefore disposed of. Even when the Judiciary has made commendable progress in the rollout of mediation procedures in several courts, budget enhancement for mediation activities and more sensitization of mediators, parties involved in cases as well as the general public will go a long way in ensuring better results. (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us firstname.lastname@example.org).