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Alternative dispute resolution: American experience
  • Written by Olena Matviichuk, Chair of the Board, Yevhen Poltenko, Executive Director of the Legal Development Network
  • Published in  Events
Alternative dispute resolution: American experience Photo courtesy of Legal Development Network

Is it possible to resolve disputes without going to court? The answer is unequivocal - yes. The judges, prosecutors and lawyers of the United States do not only know how to do this, but actively implement it in practice for more than one year. Here, in the states, 99% of all civil cases that fall into federal courts are solved in an extrajudicial way, through alternative dispute resolution (mediation, arbitration, preliminary assessment of the case). 30 years ago, this figure was 10%.

Participants of the study visit - the Chair of the Board of Directors of Legal Development Network  Olena Matviichuk, Executive Director of the Association Yevhen Poltenko, as members of the Ukrainian delegation of judges and key partners, got the opportunity to take advantage of the alternative dispute resolution with its further introduction in Ukraine.

In Washington, the delegation learned about the work of the US judiciary, visiting the Federal Judicial Center (the research and education agency), the United States District Court for the District of Columbia and its Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division (unit responsible for alternative dispute resolution).

In Washington, the delegation learned about the work of the US judiciary, visiting the Federal Judicial Center (Center for Educational and Research), the District High Court of Columbia and its Multidisciplinary Dispute Resolution Division (unit responsible for alternative dispute resolution).

In addition, the participants visited the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (totally 14 in the country), where they met with Amy Wind, Chief Circuit Mediator for the D.C. Circuit. Amy, together with her colleague, processes about 300 cases each year. In general, the court examines more than 3,000 cases a year, offering mediation to the parties to resolve the dispute, and Amy directs them to one of 150 volunteer mediators. Their only reward is professional recognition in the legal environment. Amy is taking her own mediation in the most complex and at the same time interesting cases.

Upon arriving in New York, the Ukrainian delegation studied the activities of two subsidiaries of the Center for Court Innovation. The American retired judges founded this non-governmental organization two dozen years ago. The first of the institutions is the Red Hook Community Justice Center. This experiment is unique even for the United States. Here, under the same roof, judges, prosecutors, police and civic organizations together find pre-trial solutions to such painful community problems as drug abuse, crime, domestic violence and housing disputes. The center's approach is not aimed at punishing people who committed minor offenses, but at strengthening their law-abidingness through support from the family, community and government institutions. It should be noted that this approach demonstrates its effectiveness: every dollar invested in the work of the institution allows the community to save two.

The second experimental facility is the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center. The center was conceived as an instrument for reducing ethnic tensions between Jewish and African-American residents in the district. However, the municipality redirected the budget of the mediation programs to overcome the problem of street violence using firearms. Therefore, now the Center concentrates its efforts in this direction, attracting local residents, who were themselves perpetrators of their time. After completing the necessary training, these "agents" of the center continue to work on persuading their neighbors to abandon force resolution of conflicts. This model was once borrowed from Chicago. It allowed to turn the feeling of security to the local streets.

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Also, at the Center there is a legal clinic, where primary legal aid is provided to those who need it. The main scope of work in the clinic is performed by two dozen paralegal volunteers. The most complex cases are redirected to affiliate lawyers who provide Pro bono services.

The study visit, which became possible due to the successful example of cooperation and implementation of mediation in the courts in the Volyn region, was headed by the Chair of the Legal Development Network Olena Matviichuk and the judiciary corps, lasted from 10 to 18 June 2017, was organized by the USAID New Justice Program and ended with a session assessing its results and planning for further steps to implement alternative dispute resolution in Ukraine.

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