Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 June 2022:
Sierra Leone’s Chief Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards last Saturday said that a new Arbitration Law will soon come to force in Sierra Leone. He was speaking as a special guest at the 6th International Chamber of Commerce Africa Conference on Arbitration on the theme, “African Arbitration: Consolidation and Transformation.”
According to Chief Justice Edwards, the Law of Arbitration in Sierra Leone is the Arbitration Ordinance of 1927 enshrined in Cap 25 of the Laws of Sierra Leone 1960. It constitutes the first and only statutory enactment on Arbitration in Sierra Leone. It was enacted by the British Colonial Administration and came into force on the 16th of December 1927.
The UK he said, had long departed from this Law with the promulgation of English Arbitration Act, 1996. “They gave us a legacy we are unwilling to abandon. In its Long title it reads ‘this ordinance may be cited as the Arbitration Ordinance and shall apply to the colony and the protectorate.’ So, its application is only and solely in Sierra Leone, never mind what lawyers would wish.”
“This is in contrast with other Arbitration Laws Like the UNCITRAL MODEL LAW 1985 as amended in 2006; the English Arbitration Act 1996, the German ZPO, the SWISS Private International Law and many more statutes all of which has an international Application e.g. the UNCITRAL Model Law provides that this law applies to International Commercial Arbitration , subject to any agreement in force between this State and any other state or states and then goes on to define when an Arbitration is international,” the Chief Justice said.
Chief Justice Edwards also said that disputes are an inevitable occurrence of life and international arbitration remains the most important and widely used dispute resolution mechanism of choice for cross border disputes.
“Guinea, Liberia, The Gambia and Sierra Leone all do have Arbitration Laws. In the case of Guinea, they have The Ohada Uniform Arbitration Act 1999 as amended; the Gambia – The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act Chapter 6 of 2005 as amended by Act No. 6 of 2006; Liberia, you have the Liberian Commercial Code of 2010 – Title 7 Chapter 7 of the Liberian Code of Laws Revised Commercial Code – Commercial Arbitration. These are relatively new and modern Arbitration Laws which may not represent the best as they may need improvements here and there but present good scenarios for making these Countries reasonably attractive for Arbitration.”
He told the conference that Cap 25 of the Laws of Sierra Leone 1960 is the oldest in the sub-region, hence the need for reform.
The New Arbitration Bill is expected to be tabled in the House of Parliament as the New Arbitration Act of 2022. This New Arbitration Bill, apart from the best practice provisions covering things like a stay of proceedings, limited court intervention, interim measures, separability/severability, powers in relation to the constitution of the tribunal, competence – competence; determination of questions of law by Experts appointed by the Tribunal, determination of recoverable costs, an extension of time, coercive powers re-witnesses etc. and most importantly recognition, challenge, setting aside and enforcement of Awards.
This change he said, will make Sierra Leone attractive as a place for Doing Business attracting direct foreign investments.
Chief Justice Edwards spoke about ways in which arbitral institutions can collaborate to build capacity within the continent as well as future opportunities and ways to enhance Africa’s economic development that will attract important foreign investments through the instrumentality of international arbitration.
Chief Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards is right in saying we introduce our arbitration law mirroring the law on commercial Abritation the model law on international commercial Abritation which was adopted by the United Nations commission on international trade law on 21st June 1985 as amended in 2006 .As justice Babatunde alluded to ,Guniea , Libria and the Gambia have long adopted and formerlized their own laws in their statue books. Well Sierra leone are the proud holders of the dubious record of unreformed arbitration laws in the region . And this is all down to the poor quality and lack of forward thinking political leadership we are blessed with in Sierra leone . As we all know Sierra Leone is one of few countries in the world that like to hang on to colonial relics laws that are neither practicable in their implementation but always set us at the back of the queue with our closest neighbours and commercial competitors in the West African sub region .And when it comes to foreign direct investment, this is one area investors are interested in more than anything else .If I invest my capital in this country and there is a sudden change of government ,will I be in position to use international arbitration tribunal laws to recover my assets.Especially the recent cases brought against the one directionless Bio government by mining companies in London that he in taking office in 2018 have the audacity to terminate their contracts with out reading the small prints. If the Chief Justice succeed in refoming this 1927 colonial era abiritation law in to our statue books it will help codify things and make commercial disputes easy to judicate.:The general duty of the tribunal is to:
(1)”act fairly and impartially as between the parties , giving each party a reasonable opportunity of putting his case and dealing that of his opponent, and
(2)”adopt procedures like the language or languages to be used.”
(3)”what forms of written statement,or claims and defence to be used and when these should be supplied,
(4)”disclosure of evidence and provided by parties at what stage,
(5)”what questions should be put to the parties representatives and when and in what form this should be done,
(6)”whether to apply strict rules of evidence as to admissibility, relevance or useful material sought to be tended on any of the matters of facts or opinion in which ,material to exchange and presented,
(7)”whether and to what extent the tribunal should itself seek to take the initiative in ascertaining the facts and the law .and,
(8)”whether and to what extent there should be oral or written submission is permitted.”
Now since we are in the session of getting rid of British era colonial laws , Chief Justice
Desmond Babatunde , should take a look at the Colonial era law that stops the Krio community owing lands in the provinces.Thats a an apartheid law discriminate against a tribe in our country that needs to be confine into the dustbin of our history .God bless Sierra Leone .