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Setting up a tribunal that can decide

It is a facilitators task to set up a tribunal that can make a decision for the parties.

What challenges does it focus on?

To organize a group of three or more people who can take a decision for this dispute.

Short summary

To set up a tribunal that can make a decision for the parties, facilitators report the following practices: 

  • Make a list of people who can act as third parties. It is important to have people from different backgrounds, gender, age and expertise on the list.
  • Organise that three people of this list are elected to be part of the tribunal.
  • A good process is that both parties choose one decision-maker that they like to be on the tribunal. The two decision-makers choose together the third party to complete the tribunal.
  • If the prefered third party is not available the facilitator may choose another option from the list. This prevents having to start the process all over again.
  • Organize a good process for the tribunal.
  • Third parties have to earn the trust of the parties, which may take some time.
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Possible next steps:

  • Sometimes, many similar disputes arise. And there is no good access to court or to another effective third party decision making procedure.
  • Then it may be necessary to create a more permanent panel or court.
  • When setting up a tribunal, it is important to define what kind of decisions it should be able to take. On which disputes? What are the usual interests and solutions? Which problems in decision making will the parties have?
  • The members of the tribunal and the process can then be selected on the basis of these terms of reference.
  • A more permanent tribunal needs a funding model to be sustainable. Can the parties pay for it? Are there community funds? What will be the costs and the sources of income?

Research evidence

 Evidence from practice

  • In Cambodia facilitators can be elected from a list of 7 people to form together the commune dispute resolution committee. people have indicated that they experience this election as a good way to set up a fair process
  • In Rwanda local judges Abunzi, each party can choose a judge from a list of 15 people who are elected in the community. These judges togther choose the third party, who is usually the secretary of the Abunzi court.


Evidence from literature

The influence of tribunal chairs or adjudicators in informal proceedings should not be underestimated. In the absence of representation, tribunal chairs bear responsibility for the fairness of the proceedings, although there are few immediate controls on their behaviour and there is no formal monitoring of their performance.

Tribunals and Informal Justice, Hazel Genn The Modern Law Review Limited 1993

Best practices