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The Use of Arbitration in Criminal Cases

The author recently spoke at a conference in Saudi Arabia. The conference, held in Riayadh at the Naif Arab University for Security Sciences, dealt with the use of arbitration in criminal cases. The speakers included the former President of the American Arbitration, William K Slate.

The author’s paper looked at systems in a number of countries, which systems are aimed at dealing with criminal cases other than by way of trial in criminal courts. 

Various labels are given to these systems: arbitration, mediation, restorative justice. But that may not be important, since the objective of all of these systems – whatever label is put on them- is the same: to deal with criminal cases (probably restricted to minor criminal offences) without the need to proceed to a trial. Some of these schemes may additionally involve the bringing together of victim and offender in an attempt to “heal” the harm done by criminal activity. Others are aimed at steering juveniles away from crime. 

All such systems may face the problem of arbitrability and public policy. Will national governments permit criminal cases to be dealt with outside the national courts? Or will governments insist that criminal offences are a matter for the State and must be dealt with in the State courts? The answer seems to be that some States at any rate will not only permit but will encourage the use of out-of-court systems to deal with certain types of minor criminal offence. 

The Paper has also looked at plea bargaining. The objective here is quite different from that of the arbitration/mediation/restorative justice schemes. The objective is to keep criminal cases from proceeding to trial, and in the process to save time and money. The attitude of governments in the countries considered in the Paper differs. The United States has long accepted plea bargaining, but with limitations. England has traditionally been hostile to the concept, but is edging towards the American view. Singapore has laid down clear rules to permit and control a system of Criminal Case Resolution. 

What does the future hold? 

The development in the use of both types of scheme in the countries considered in this Paper – arbitration /mediation and plea bargaining- would suggest that such use is likely to continue, and indeed to increase.

/ 1st Jun 2013


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