On Saturday, the 16th day of June, 2018, I published on Sun Column under the caption ‘’Time for federal mediation and conciliation centres.’’ The opening paragraphs of that piece read as follows: ‘’When early in the week I set out to write today’s column, the one issue I had in mind was a follow-up to reactions that trailed my last column on the innovative steps Lagos State judiciary is taking to decongest its courts.
However as I proceeded with the script, I suddenly realized that in all of these developments within the Alternative Dispute Resolution sphere, the Federal High Court has so far not featured. I know that like other hierarchies of courts, the Federal High Court encourages amicable resolution of disputes, particularly when it is at the instance of parties.
However as I write this, I am yet unaware of any specific ADR scheme that has been initiated by the court. This should not be so; more particularly because the court stands in a unique position as regards the commercial fortunes of our economy. Introducing ADR to matters within the jurisdiction of the court is therefore imperative. Within the court’s jurisdiction reside all fundamental commercial concerns of the nation such as maritime, banking, taxation, insurance, Companies and Allied Matters etc. ‘’
Today, Saturday, the 15th of June 2019, exactly one year after the publication under reference, I bring you a different story – news that the Federal High Court has now established the Federal High Court Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre (FHCADRC). Don’t get it mixed up; the establishment of the Centre may not have in any way be connected nor influenced by the said article. The major point of interest, particularly to me, is the coincidence of timing of these publications as concern the Federal High Court ADR Centre. The formal launch of the Centre comes soon, at a date yet to be announced.
The significance of the entry of the Federal High Court ADR Centre into the judicial space can only be fully appreciated if one understands the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court and its pivotal role in the resolution of commercial disputes in Nigeria. Within the court’s jurisdiction reside all fundamental commercial concerns of the nation such as maritime, banking, taxation, insurance, Companies and Allied Matters etc.
Practitioners and followers of ADR developments in the country will find the Federal High Court (Alternative Dispute Resolution) Rules 2018, both innovative and flexible. Aside adopting the flexibility of ADR processes known to such institutions, the FHCADRC is innovatively bringing certainty to the cost of ADR business by publishing the scale of fees for its mediators in its Rules. Other ADR Centres that I have had dealings with, would rather make their process fees available only upon request.
Another innovation worthy of note is that the FHCADRC has incorporated the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 2004 into its processes by reference. Thus Order 6 Rule 4 provides that ‘’The ADR proceedings shall be conducted in accordance with the Arbitration and Conciliation Rules set out in the Schedule of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act or the provisions of the Court(Civil Procedure) Rules. However, like other ADR Centres of the various States, commencement of ADR processes at the Centre shall be by Walk-in, Court Referral and Direct Intervention of the Centre in matters of public importance which it deems in its wisdom to intervene.
The coming of the Federal High Court ADR Centre would appear a game changer in the dispute resolution industry. Aside it’s noteworthy big ticket commercial jurisdiction, there is also the fact that unlike other Multi-Door Courthouses which operate the single location court presence, the FHCADRC shall be found in several States of the federation where the court is located.
The Centre’s enabling law also provides an answer for very conservative lawyers who make heavy weather about the distinction between arbitration and mediation simply because the former is rooted in a federal legislation. The FHCADRC Rules should now conclusively show how wrong they have been. To the initiates, those who have bothered to upscale their learning, it has since been a known fact that Conciliation and Mediation can be used interchangeably with little or no differences. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides for and recognizes the respective legal status of the Federal and State governments. What has thus played out is that while State Governments have been establishing Multi-Door Courthouses (ADR Centres) under the respective laws of the State, the Federal Government has so far established its own ADR Centres such as the Federal High Court ADR Centre and the National Industrial Court ADR Centre through federal legislations.
In concluding my thoughts on these developments let me also draw attention to an implicit alert contained in the FHCADRC Rules. The alert is to the effect that for a comprehensive understanding and practice of alternative dispute resolution, practitioners must never restrict themselves to any one platform of dispute resolution as the entire business of that industry operates in a loop. Some practitioners who may have vowed never to have anything to do with the acquisition of arbitration skills may now see the wisdom of doing so if they must exploit the opportunity of being engaged as external mediators of the FHCADRC.