A movement needs to be launched to popularize mediation as a cheaper and faster dispute resolution mechanism" Justice N.V. Ramana

The requirements of substantive equality are a bedrock of every Constitutional democracy, and these ideals must be reflected even during the dispute resolution process,” he said

The Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana addressed the India- Singapore Mediation Summit on “Making Mediation mainstream: Reflections from India and Singapore" He began by congratulating the Singapore International Mediation Centre, CAMP, Mediation Mantras, and the officers of the Supreme Court of Singapore and the Supreme Court of India.

Conflicts are unavoidable in society says Justice Ramana

“Conflicts are unavoidable in any society for a variety of reasons like political, economic, social, cultural and religious. And with conflicts, there is also the need to develop mechanisms for conflict resolution”. Referring to Mahabharata, he said, “this provides an example of an early attempt at mediation as a conflict resolution tool, where Lord Krishna attempted to mediate the dispute between the Pandavas and Kauravas. It may be worthwhile to recall that the failure of mediation led to disastrous consequences”. The Chief Justice further added, “Mediation, as a concept, is deeply embedded into the Indian ethos. However, the establishment of the British court system, in 1775, marked the erosion of community-based indigenous dispute resolution mechanisms in India”.

People have immense faith in the Indian Judicial System: NV Ramana

Chief Justice Ramana believes, the reason for the uniqueness of the Indian Judicial system is the “immense faith of the people in the system. The Constitution gives wide-ranging powers and jurisdiction to do complete justice between the parties to bring to life the motto of the Indian Supreme Court, “Yato Dharma Sthato Jaya”, that is, “where there is Dharma, there is Victory”.

Bringing Arbitration in line with UNCITRAL Model Law: NV Ramana

Discussing the contributing factors that revived the Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) in India, he first mentions the “judicial delays”. Herein, the term ‘pendency’ “refers to all cases which have not yet been disposed of, without any reference to how long the case has spent in the judicial system” including the ones that are filed yesterday. Hence, it is not a “useful indicator of how well, or poorly, a system is doing”. Now, the second factor is the “increased access to justice in India”. “Under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 the judiciary has been given statutory backing and responsibility in ensuring greater access to justice, and I can proudly state that it is one of the greatest success stories of modern India,” says CJI Ramana. Thirdly, “the opening of the Indian market- that is, the major economic reforms were undertaken in 1995. After India opened its economy, the Parliament enacted the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 to bring the Indian arbitration regime in line with the UNCITRAL Model Law. This was probably the most important legal reform, which has received immense attention by the Indian legal and business community”.

CJI Ramana also talked about the pros of mediation and conciliation. He said it can “reduce pendency, save resources and time, and allow litigants a degree of control over the process and outcome of their dispute resolution process”. In fact, “In a constitutional challenge to Section 89 CPC, the Supreme Court of India appointed a Committee to draft Mediation Rules, which were subsequently approved. All the High Courts were directed to frame the rules which led to the development of Court- Annexed Mediation in India”.

Talking about his personal experience, CJI Ramana said that he has seen “disputes that have subsisted for decades get resolved through the process of mediation, within a short time”.

Supreme Court of India also made an active effort on the administrative side to improve the mediation landscape

Referring to a 1992 decision of the house of lords, Justice Ramana pointed out that agreements back then had good faith discussion clause before opting for arbitration or Court litigation but the agreements were not binding. On the other hand, India and Singapore are among the few jurisdictions to have taken a different path and made such agreements enforceable”. The Supreme Court of India also made an active effort on the administrative side to improve the mediation landscape in India he added, CJI Ramana.

In 2019, there was a development relating to the Singapore Convention on Mediation. He mentioned, “This is intended to create a framework for cross-border enforcement of international settlement agreements marked a huge step forward. The Convention is important for creating trust and faith with respect to international commercial settlement agreements. India was one of the first signatories of the Singapore Convention in 2019”.

Highlighting the current state of mediation in India, CJI Ramana mentions there are “nearly 43,000 mediation canters in India. The data suggests that since 2005, nearly 3.22 million cases have been referred and nearly 1 million cases have been settled by mediation up to March 2021”. However, there are a few persisting barriers to the adoption of mediation in India. CJI Ramana said, “it is necessary to address issues of legitimacy, credibility, and acceptability of mediation”.

Last but not the least, he discussed a few issues to make mediation a more robust process. Firstly, the role of a mediator. He said, earlier, “the mediators acted only as a guide, leading the parties to the best solution”. But now, they are being asked: “to provide more active assistance to the parties to reach a settlement”. Secondly, “the extent of ‘neutrality’ and ‘aloofness’ a mediator must possess during the process”. To this, he mentioned a few questions to be considered by a mediator especially in India as we have a diverse social fabric. Moreover, “The requirements of substantive equality are a bedrock of every Constitutional democracy, and these ideals must be reflected even during the dispute resolution process”. Thirdly, “the need for ethical standards and unimpeachable integrity and neutrality of mediators. For this, it is necessary, that Rules and Regulations governing Mediators are updated and implemented to ensure transparency and neutrality”.

While concluding the keynote, CJI Ramana said, “To popularize mediation as a cheaper and faster dispute resolution mechanism, a movement needs to be launched. Needless to state, mediation will lead to a remarkable reduction in the number of cases reaching the regular courts. Such a scenario will enhance the efficiency of the judicial system. The several States in India are currently coming to build a robust ADR- friendly environment. Recently, the State of Telangana has come forward to set up a state-of-the-art ADR facility. This is a welcome move and I hope other states will soon follow”.

He further believes that the “Cooperation between India and Singapore is going to be a significant factor in promoting alternate dispute redressal mechanisms in both our countries, as well as in the entire subcontinent”

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