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New Mediation Program Brings Resolution to Civil Disputes

New Mediation Program Brings Resolution to Civil Disputes

A backlog of civil matters is overwhelming the courts, burdening judges, and blocking progress for lawyers and clients who want to see their cases reach resolution. An enterprising judge, however, has developed a novel solution. It is a solution that respects both the legal and religious traditions of the country by using religious leaders to resolve conflicts. The pilot program is called “Mediar é divino” or “To Mediate is Devine.”

As many as 200 million civil cases are in the national judiciary, according to Department of Justice figures cited by Religion News Service. On average, those cases will take between two and ten years to get a hearing in court. The idea of an alternative program to speed up the process and alleviate the judicial backlog is therefore quite enticing.

Mediar é divino is being tested in Goiás, a state that accounted for an estimated 800,000 legal cases in 2015. The program is recruiting Catholic priests and Protestant ministers to serve as mediators in civil matters, such as marital issues, child support, and child custody.

While mediation is a familiar legal concept in many countries, it is relatively new in Brazil. Mediation did not become a formal part of the Brazilian legal system until a mediation law was passed in 2015. Now, thanks to Judge Paulo Cesar das Neves, mediation is becoming more popular and more utilized. Though Judge das Neves says the program is unprecedented, he believes its structure makes sense given religion’s prominence in Brazilian society. “Brazil is a highly religious society and it dawned on me that along with a mission to evangelize[,] religious leaders also have a mission to reconcile and pacify citizens.”

Religious figures recruited to serve as mediators take a course overseen by the Courts of Justice in Goiás. Instruction consists of legal theory and supervised practice sessions that include conflict simulations. So far, about 130 matters have gone through mediation, resulting in 90 agreements.

Right now, the mediation program is being paid for by the courts in Goiás. There are plans to take the program nationwide, but the funding mechanism for a national effort remains unclear. The results of the pilot program, however, are clear. Mediar é divino is easing the backlog of cases and freeing up judicial resources that can now be focused on other legal matters. Presumably, those results could end up in savings and efficiencies that could potentially help the program pay for itself.