A mediation centre dedicated to dispute resolution and restorative justice for the people of Turks and Caicos Islands has been opened in the country.
Victims of crime as well as persons impacted by it now have a place to achieve healing and closure through Victim-Offender mediation.
According to Chief Justice Mabel Agyemang, both court-connected mediation and the restorative justice process will be accessed at the Mediation Centre which was opened on July 15 at Emily House in Providenciales. The Mediation Centre will be the neutral place away from the intimidations associated with courtrooms; providing comfort, to allow for meaningful mediation of disputes as well as the facilitation of the restorative process.
Although the centre is located in Providenciales, it is intended to serve all islands. The facility has two conference rooms equipped with electronic capability; an office for a Mental Health practitioner; an office for mediators and facilitators; an office for the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Administrator; bathroom facilities and a lunchroom.
On the island of Grand Turk, mediation and the restorative process have been conducted from the Jury Room of the Supreme Court building, but mediators or facilitators may access the new facility for their sessions, if it is desired or becomes necessary. The Attorney General also hopes to provide similar spaces in other islands.
What is Mediation and Restorative Justice Process?
Court-Connected Mediation was introduced into justice delivery in Turks and Caicos Islands by the promulgation of Rules of Procedure in October 2021, and the training and certification of mediators.
Mediation is a recognized method of alternative dispute resolution achieved through a negotiation facilitated by a neutral third party who assists the parties to arrive at a settlement. It is a system that is controlled by the persons with the dispute, as they have a direct input in the outcome. Mediation which achieves speedy resolution, and is cost effective has the track record of upholding the dignity of feuding parties, and also, of preserving relationships.
Persons with disputes may now go to court not to have their matter heard by a Judge or Magistrate, but to request mediation. Others may have their disputes referred to mediation by the Court, as necessary, and now, they have a comfortable place to air their grievances and work towards the resolution of their dispute.
Restorative Justice is an outworking of the system of achieving reparations introduced by the Alternative Sentencing Ordinance. It is a form of mediation which employs a reparative approach to criminal justice by emphasizing the repairing of harm caused to victims and persons impacted by crime, as well as finding positive ways forward after the devastating effects of crime by encouraging meaningful engagement. All this is done without sacrificing the accountability that should accompany the commission of crime.
Traditionally, restorative justice has achieved the multiple purposes of preventing a repetition of the criminal conduct, bringing healing and closure to victims of, and persons impacted by crime, as well as repairing relationships.
As the Mediator guides the process of a mediation, so, a restorative justice practitioner (referred to also as a Facilitator), guides the restorative process towards achieving the goal of reparation and reconciliation in the appropriate case.
The trial court may before or after passing sentence, with the consent of the victim of a crime, require a person accused or convicted of committing a crime to submit themselves to the restorative justice process.
The ADR Administrator, working with the Mental Health Practitioner may determine the suitability of the restorative process in certain cases, as well as the extent of involvement of parents and guardians in cases involving juveniles.
The provision of electronic capability is to ensure that in the proper case, a victim who may be traumatised by the physical appearance of the perpetrator of crime, may be spared such.
The introduction of the twin initiatives: Court-Connected Mediation for civil cases, and the Restorative Justice process for criminal cases, is the culmination of the collaborative efforts of various institutions and entities including the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Cabinet and the Members of the House of Assembly.
Restorative Justice was introduced with the promulgation of its Rules of Procedure on 1st June 2022. The process of its introduction was by the consensus of the Criminal Justice Stakeholder Group (CJSG) which approved this initiative as important to the reform of our criminal justice system. The members of the Criminal Justice Group not only approved the initiative when it was presented to the meeting, but also encouraged its introduction, and actively participated in it by nominating members of their staff to take part in the training.
Restorative Justice is a Judiciary initiative as it was given the necessary push by the CJSG which is made up of the Judiciary, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police, The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Department of Social Development, and the Bar Association of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
A total of 42 persons have been trained in Mediation and 26 persons, in Restorative Justice, all paid for by the Judiciary.
The Mediation Committee membership consists of: The Hon. Ms Justice Tanya Lobban Jackson – Chairperson; His Honour Mr. Jolyon Hatmin – Chief Magistrate; Ms. Renee McLean – Registrar of the Supreme Court, and Mr. Selvyn Hawkins, President of the Bar Council. The Registrar of the Magistrate’s Court, Ms. Patricia Arana is currently the ADR Administrator, responsible for the administration of both Mediations and Restorative Justice sessions.