Innovative Methods for Virtual Arbitration Hearings in Africa
Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR), mainly denotes a wide range of dispute resolution processes that act as a means of disagreeing parties to agree without using the means of litigation. It is a collective term that refers to how the parties can settle disputes, with the help of a third party. It is also known as external dispute resolution (EDR). ADR has gained widespread acceptance among both the general public and the legal profession in recent years and is also being adopted as the means to help settle disputes alongside the court system itself. There are various widely used forms of ADR such as Arbitration, Mediation Negotiation, and Conciliation. However, in the present circumstances where the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) has put everything on hold, it is important to address its impact on ADR.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) global health crisis is drastically impacting communities worldwide. It has caused unprecedented disruptions and damaged the world’s economy and business relationships. A great number of commercial disputes are coming forth as parties are finding it difficult to perform their contractual obligations. There is a complete possibility that the crisis will result in a surge of litigation and will consequently delay the resolution of pending court cases. It is the unprecedented delays that should steer the parties towards alternative dispute resolution (ADR). It is in the wake of this crisis that Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) or Virtual ADR has come into play. Virtual ADR allows the cases to be resolved in a hassle-free manner and this system there is no need for travel by any party or attorney. All the parties can communicate with each other through video conferencing which makes it possible for them to hear and see each other. In the case of mediation, the mediator can separate the parties and engage in a mutually agreeable settlement. Greater utilization of ADR will result in a quick resolution of cases and will also be time and money-saving.
In this context, various arbitral institutions globally have issued certain rules to govern the virtual arbitration hearings. For instance, the International Chamber of Commerce, taking in the factors that could help resolve the effects of COVID-19 on the arbitration proceedings, have issued cyber-protocols and procedural tools to avoid the delays caused by the pandemic. However, none of the rules or protocols cater to the technological challenges that a country like Africa faces. Hence, the African Arbitration Academy has customized rules for virtual hearings in Africa.
To cater the unique technological challenges in Africa, one of the most important rules is for the parties to agree upon in advance on the platform to be used and to have at least one extra internet server as a back-up (in case some glitch occurs in the middle of the hearing). In case if the parties do not have access to technology then the arbitral institutions should be equipped to provide the infrastructure. It is also important for the Tribunals to take into consideration the remote locations and tome-zones to ensure access by all the parties. The academy also makes it mandatory to give 72 hours prior notice for the hearing to test all the technology and back-up to avoid any glitch.
These innovative provisions will go a long way to address the challenges which are faced in Africa. Like any new initiative, virtual ADR will have its share of teething troubles. However, it is certainly a step in the right direction. These protocols should be welcomed as factors facilitating the growth and development of arbitration in Africa. All of us are finding it difficult to maintain as normal an existence as possible. The current pandemic has altered the way we think about our lives and daily interactions. However, in unprecedented times like these, it is much more important to come together and fight to come out stronger and much more evolved.