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Phuket Chief Justice Varangkana Sujaritkul: mediation's prime mover

Phuket's Innovation of the Year for 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009
Phuketwan Innovation of the Year

PHUKET police are looking at introducing a mediation process to settle disputes.

In the court system on the island, the mediation process has proven so successful that it has been awarded the title of Phuketwan Innovation of the Year for 2009.

The idea for its development at police stations will be pursued by two mediators and three appointees from police at Phuket City. Phuket's Chief of Police, Major General Pekad Tantipong, believes it can work.

Much of the energy that generated the success of mediation has come from the Phuket Chief Justice, Varangkana Sujaritkul, who took up her position in April.

Could mediation be open to corruption? ''I don't think that corruption is possible,'' Chief Justice Varangkana said. ''Remember, there are two parties involved in disputes, coming from opposite perspectives.''

Phuket saw quite a few innovations this year, including the ''Summer on Phuket'' marketing concept, the clean the beaches campaign, the Roy Fest music on the beach festival, and insurance for jet-skis. Paying for plastic bags to save the environment? That starts next year, so we'll know then whether it works.

Because of the pressure of the number of cases on the island's court system and the overcrowding of Phuket Prison, Phuketwan's judging panel opted for mediation as the most significant advance on the island this year.

Seminars on the techniques and the models for mediation have also spread the message within the island community: it's best to talk disputes through, listen to each other's opinions and then accept a compromise.

Success of mediation has been extended from civil cases to criminal cases, but it is in disputes involving money where mediation has achieved its greatest success.

More than 1000 civil cases had been settled using mediation to the end of November, with 1.2 billion baht involved in those settlements.

Pursuit of a more professional approach to mediation has meant that the number of successful resolutions in civil cases has risen from 39 percent in March to 94-99 percent in the period between July and November.

That's mostly due to the chief justice making the process more professional. More criminal cases are also being resolved by paid and volunteer mediators.

''Just saying 'I'm sorry' helps a lot,'' the chief justice said. ''Fighting has no benefit.

''People on Phuket are mostly well educated, so the concept of a win-win situation is something they quickly understand,'' she said.

However, skilled mediators are hard to find and there's quite a lot of training involved in being able to end long-standing disputes. The chief justice has settled a couple herself, including one involving a journalist and a leading politician.

''It took five minutes on the telephone to each one,'' she said.

In Phuketwan's experience, once a matter falls into the hands of lawyers, it usually involves unwanted expenditure and time. Lawyers are advocates for the court system.

Mediation, on the other hand, settles disputes by negotiation and compromise, without great cost, and without losers.
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