The process of mediation for land and titles disputes was explained during the Samoa Conference at the National University of Samoa this week.
Lawyer and Accredited Mediator, Maiava Visekota Peteru said handing over the responsibility of mediation from the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) Registrar to a professional third party has been a success.
Earlier this year, L.T.C. outsourced the practice of mediation to the Accredited Mediators of Samoa Association (A.M.S.A).
Mediation or fa’atofalaiga is when a third party facilitates the discussions around disputes, ideally leading to a happy outcome for all parties.
Maiava said for Samoans, it is more likely than not they will end up in a land or title dispute at some point in their lives, so it is important to understand the mediation process. If a dispute can be settled in mediation, families can save thousands of tala in Court fees.
“Mediation is confidential, so what you say during mediation cannot be discussed later in Court,” she said.
The process of mediation begins with a prayer to bring the parties together into the same space and then the mediator guides them through understanding the dispute from both perspectives, and negotiating to come to an agreement.
“We are asking people to come, not to come continue arguing with each other, but to bring forward your thoughts, look at each other, speak to each other and if at all possible, move from your position.”
Maiava said mediation is essential in the L.T.C. because sometimes people file their dispute petitions before speaking to the families about their objections.
“When they come to mediation, sometimes this is the first time they are facing each other and talking about the dispute,” said Maiava.
Sometimes, this might be because of a race against the clock.
“People may not have the time and they need to meet the time limit, for example a matai ceremony that is being held.
“A lot of matai are residents overseas now and they need to get back to their work or commitment overseas, so they too will put in a petition before actually sitting down with the other parties.”
Maiava said with mediation being compulsory, filing petitions in a hurry isn’t necessarily a problem because the parties will have to sit down with each other regardless.
Mediation is a fairly new concept to Samoa, Maiava said.
The practice was introduced in 2012 with the establishment of A.M.S.A. and in 2013 Chief Justice His Honour Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu launched Samoa’s Mediation Rules 2013 as a legal framework to the practice.
Mediation differs slightly to the Samoan practice of soalaupule in that it is purely facilitative, and not determinative in any manner.