Mediation is a voluntary or involuntary process (where the court refers a case to the Multidoor Courthouse for settlement of the dispute) that is party driven where a neutral and impartial third party helps the parties in reaching a mutually beneficial settlement.
At the OMDC, parties have access to several Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) options, including negotiation, mediation, conciliation, and arbitration. However, mediation is the most utilized option at the OMDC. The Ogun State Multi-Door Courthouse is a multifaceted dispute resolution centre within the administrative structure of the court where disputes could be efficiently addressed through the mechanism best suited for the parties and the issues involved. The Ogun Multidoor Courthouse provides additional ‘doors’ and is designed to provide faster, cost-effective, and user-friendly access to justice, thereby supplementing litigation.
The centre recommends the most suitable option for resolving the conflict and assigns a mediator to the case. Sometimes, the court may refer cases to the Multi-Door Courthouse to ensure quick resolution, especially when there is a backlog of cases in court.
During my internship at the OMDC, I learned about the various ways cases are referred to the OMDC. The first and most common way is through court referral, where cases are referred to the OMDC in appropriate circumstances. This is usually done when the court has a large number of cases to deal with and believes that the matters will be best settled at the OMDC. The dispute resolution officer, who is the head of administration at the Ijebu-Ode office of OMDC, receives the file from the court. Then the case will be sent to the Magistrate who is in charge of assigning a mediator to the case. A date is then set for the settlement of the disputes subject to the convenience of the mediator.
Another way a case can be filed at the OMDC is by a lawyer filing a case, in which the lawyer pays a certain amount and files the necessary documents and statements of issues. These documents must also be served on the other party to the dispute. The OMDC also deals with cases that are referred to as walk-in cases. These are cases where parties walk in without legal representation. The issues involved in these cases determine whether a mediator will be assigned to resolve them. The OMDC has jurisdiction over matters related to land, tenancy, and recovery of debts. Divorce matters, on the other hand, are referred to the High Court where the parties got married under the Marriage Act, or Customary Court will handle divorce matters where the parties got married under customary law. When a party walks into the OMDC, they file a statement of issues, which is then served to the other party to the dispute. The other party will then respond to the statement of issues, and a mediator will be assigned to help the parties reach a mutually beneficial settlement.
On the day assigned for the resolution of the dispute by the mediator, the parties involved will then proceed to the DRO’s office and fill out various forms, including the request form, submission form, agreement to mediate form, and confirmation of attendance form. Additionally, the parties will fill out the confidentiality of agreement form. It is worth noting that the mediator usually arrives before the parties, and when the parties arrive, they go to the assigned office for the mediation session. The parties and mediator fill out the attendance sheet, and the mediator completes the disclosure form, which clarifies that they have no affiliation with any of the parties.
At the start of the meditation session, the mediator introduces himself and explains that it is not a court proceeding. The mediator’s goal is to make everyone feel comfortable and relaxed, so he doesn’t want to be too strict with them. He reads out an opening statement that outlines the rules, such as not interrupting the other person when they are talking. This is important to ensure that the mediation session runs smoothly. After that, the parties introduce themselves and state how they want to be addressed throughout the session. The mediator usually asks the party who filed first to speak first.
Where a company is involved, a mediator must ask whether the person representing the company has the authority to do so. The reason for this is to ensure the time used in resolving the dispute is not wasted. Whatever the representative does or says binds the company.
Then, the mediator asks questions to clarify any points he does not understand. The first party will explain what he wants, and the other party will narrate and explain what led to the disputes. If necessary, the mediator can use private sessions in caucus rooms to obtain more relevant facts from the parties. One peculiar advantage of the private sessions is that it helps to get to the root of the matter. By using the caucus effectively, mediators can greatly increase the likelihood of the parties reaching an agreement during the mediation. Quite often, what occurs in the caucus creates a turning point in the mediation. Maintaining impartiality and neutrality is crucial for a mediator, as I learned during my internship at the Ogun State Motor Court House. When dealing with multiple parties, it is important to ensure that every one of them is heard and their interests are taken into account during the mediation session. Asking relevant questions is also an essential aspect of the mediator’s role.
Furthermore, I learned that a mediator should only suggest terms of settlement and let the parties decide. In cases where the parties have their legal representation, the mediator may not need them, but they can help resolve disputes quickly. Finally, maintaining eye contact with parties is an important lesson I learned during my internship at the multi-door courthouse.
During the session, the mediator needs to assert their authority in case any of the parties become unwilling. It’s also crucial to note that some legal representatives may attempt to frustrate the process, so the mediator should reiterate that mediation requires a collaborative effort of both parties. In certain situations, the mediator may need to visit the location of a dispute (locus) if required, especially since they are acting on behalf of the court. It is also important for the mediator to emphasize the importance of mediation to make the parties cooperate. Once a settlement has been agreed upon and both parties are satisfied, the mediator’s job is complete.
In mediation, the mediator must go beyond the physical actions of the parties involved. Underlying emotions may play a crucial role in the dispute. If a settlement is not reached, the mediator will write a report stating the effect that a settlement was not reached by the parties. He will also adjourn the matter to a later date. If an agreement is reached, the mediator will submit a report to the DRO to that effect. Once a settlement is reached, the mediator will draft a settlement agreement to be typed and printed by the typist of the OMDC. The terms must be read to the parties and further corrections will be made. The agreement will then be executed by the parties and their witnesses. The mediator is also expected to sign the Settlement Agreement.
The agreement needs to be submitted to the Dispute Resolution Officer and referred back to the ADR Judge for enforcement as a consent judgment. This happens in walk-in cases. However, in cases where the court refers the matter to the OMDC, the agreement must be sent back to the Magistrate or Judge for approval to become a consent judgment.
Once the Settlement Agreement becomes a consent judgment, it cannot be appealed in any court and the parties are bound by the Agreement. Failure to comply with it will attract a penalty. However, this seems to be done only on paper. Sometimes, the parties may turn around and claim that they were forced to execute the Settlement Agreement.
Adebare, a mediator and a recent graduate of Olabisi Onabanjo University is passionate about using mediation as an effective tool in resolving conflict. She can be reached via 09052911123.