Since ancient times, mediation has been ulitised in Sri Lanka as a method of resolving disputes before it became part of the legal system of the country under British colonialism. During the colonial period, mediation was conducted by the Gamsabhawa (village council). Later on, the concept of village level dispute resolution was reintroduced and at present mediation is practiced island wide, governed by the Mediation Boards Act 1988.
In recent past, an Evaluation of the Community Mediation Board published by the Ministry of Justice in 2011 demonstrated that, about 300 Mediation Boards functioned in Sri Lanka handle an average of 112,000 cases every year with annual settlement rates between 54 to 70 percent. Furthermore, since 1991, more than 2 million individual cases have been mediated and about 60% of them have been resolved, providing an effective alternative to resolving disputes. Considering the role of mediation on paving access to justice, survey results elaborated that a substantial number of mediation users found the system to be faster and cheaper than the Courts.
Some users have also perceived mediation as fairer than the Courts. Overall, an 80% of the users surveyed preferred mediation over the Courts. When enquiries were made, EFL found out that among the cases requiring resolution by the mediation board, more than 100 cases a year related to Environmental issues in Colombo alone. However, some of these cases are referred back to Court by the Mediation board because of the insufficiency in knowledge on environmental laws and the inability to solve disputes by mediators. This would then lead to an outcome of either the parties not going into litigation, due to high costs and formalities of court proceedings, leaving unresolved disputes, or, attempts going through litigation but backs out again due to expensive expenses of litigation and time consuming procedures with many formalities. Another issue relevant to Courts is that some minor issues are brought into Court which wastes valuable time of the Court system, where cost effective, amicable settlement could have been reached to by a Mediation board as an alternative.
Hence, in order to solve more environmental issues by using mediation, a need for professional environmental units arises. Subsequently, the need for education and empowerment of mediators is essential which can be achieved via training programmes. This is when an organisation such as EFL can be of a useful resource. EFL will assist with environmental mediation and capacity building of local organisations, raising awareness, educating mediators who are already in the profession, those who wish to be and the public, to encourage to use this method in resolving environmental disputes and avoid costly tedious processes involved with Courts and litigations until and unless it is necessary.