THE RESOLUTION REPORT ONLINE
May 2008 - Volume 23, Number 1
News on Dispute Resolution trends, laws and ethics
The Dispute Resolution Center Extends Its Reach to Amman, Jordan
By Beth C. Schwartz
“It’s still a little bit of a mystery,” Dispute Resolution Center’s Sharon Press admitted with a smile when asked how she ended up being invited to travel halfway around the earth to do basic mediation training for a group of Jordanian judges and Jordan Bar Association members. Early last summer, someone associated with the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative—someone Sharon didn’t even know—contacted her, totally unexpectedly, saying she was familiar with Sharon’s work as director of Florida’s Dispute Resolution Center and wondered if she’d be interested in doing a mediation-related project in Amman, Jordan, for up to three months. Responding that she could take annual leave to commit to a week-long project, Sharon soon found herself scheduled to fly to Jordan to lead a five-day mediation training workshop in early November.
Since 2004, the Rule of Law Initiative, in conjunction with Jordan’s Ministry of Justice, has been working to help increase the efficiency of Jordan’s court system, and one strategy for doing so is to expand the role of mediation throughout the country. Toward that end, Jordan unveiled its first court mediation program in June 2006, and, since then, over 300 cases have been referred to court mediation—with a settlement rate of over 70%. The training workshop that Sharon led, which was sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, was designed to augment the use of mediation by helping judges and lawyers develop their mediation skills.
Sharon affirmed that the groundwork for advancing mediation in Jordan has been carefully laid. In March 2006, Jordan’s parliament passed a mediation law that offers litigants the option of choosing mediation over litigation. Jordan also recently established a Mediation Center. Even the location of the Mediation Center will aid in the promotion of mediation, for it’s quartered in the Palace of Justice—an enormous building that houses all of Jordan’s courts, e.g., criminal, civil, family, and sharia (a court subject to the code of law based on the Koran). And the Palace of Justice is ideally situated in Amman, a busy, population-dense, cosmopolitan city—and one of the Middle East’s safest capitals.
Jordan also has a ready supply of people who are qualified to become mediators. Unlike the court system in the U.S., in Jordan, certain judges are assigned to be mediators; under that nation’s mediation rule, mediation judges are allowed to make recommendations as part of the mediation process. In addition to the mediator judges, the rule allows for the use of private mediators—who are typically attorneys. And these are the two groups of people for whom Sharon was invited to provide training. Altogether, the group that Sharon trained included 29 people: 15 judges, 12 attorneys, and two representatives from the Ministry of Justice—among them, two women and one tribal leader.
The training mirrored the general framework of a Florida Supreme Court certified mediation training—with changes made to reflect Jordanian law and procedures as well as cultural differences. The program began with an exploration of the various ways that individuals can resolve conflict. After a segment on negotiation, the group spent the rest of the training focused on the skills of a mediator. The attendees practiced delivering opening statements and did exercises on listening skills and on assisting parties in reconsidering their positions. Before the program concluded, each attendee had an opportunity to assume the role of mediator in a complete role play so as to experience and consider the ethical dilemmas a mediator might face.
Before mediation gets seriously underway in Jordan, however, some work still needs to be done, Sharon noted. For instance, the country does not yet have its own mediation trainers; to help address this concern, the Ministry of Justice has invited Sharon to return in March to do a “train the trainer” program. The Jordanian court system also has to develop strategies for encouraging people to seek out mediation—a concern that the U.S. court system still struggles with, in fact. In order to facilitate this, one strategy that has been identified is for Jordanian mediators to begin working on the development of a professional association. A professional association could also provide continuing education programs and a mechanism for enforcing ethical conduct.
On the whole, Sharon described the experience as “enlightening and exciting,” saying, “I always learn something new when I train, and this time was no different. I believe that training in a different culture through interpreters has improved my training skills. In addition to becoming more cognizant of and reflective about cultural norms that sometimes are unspoken, I had to think more about the essence of what mediation really is and how best to convey the concepts.” Undeniably, Sharon’s experience verifies that this kind of outreach is as rewarding to those who do the outreach as well as to those toward whom it is directed.
Beth C. Schwartz
Court Publications Writer
Office of the State Courts Administrator
Reprinted from Full Court Press, Spring 2008