The Ghana Bar Association (GBA) has urged the government to establish an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) centre in Accra that can potentially become the forum of choice for the settlement of commercial disputes in Africa.
With the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat located in Ghana, a renowned ADR centre, the GBA said, was an advantage the country could explore to position itself as the centre of excellence in commercial disputes settlement on the continent.
The President of the GBA, Yaw Acheampong Boafo, told the Daily Graphic in an exclusive interview in Accra last Wednesday that the country should not be satisfied with only the AfCFTA Secretariat but also take advantage of other benefits of the free trade area arrangement to enhance development.
One benefit the AfCFTA presented, he noted, was commercial disputes, adding that with an ADR centre, Accra could become like London, which had made legal services an integral part of its services sector, contributing substantially to the economy of the United Kingdom.
“With a world-class state-sponsored ADR centre in Accra, there will be increased traffic for its services. This will have a ripple effect on other services, such as hospitality, tourism and banking.
“It will also provide more opportunities for experts. Experts’ advice is employed in ADR cases, so we are not talking about only lawyers but also accountants, engineers, maritime experts, auditors, surveyors and many others,” he said.
Section 114 of the ADR Act, 2010 (Act 798) stipulates for the establishment of an ADR centre to provide “facilities for the settlement of disputes through arbitration, mediation and other voluntary dispute resolution procedures”.
Mr Boafo explained that Act 798 had already set up the legal framework for the establishment of the ADR centre; what was left was the physical infrastructure and administrative structures to make it feasible.
The GBA, he said, had been assured by the Attorney-General (A-G), Godfred Yeboah Dame, that the establishment of the ADR centre was under consideration by the government.
On how the centre could become a centre of excellence in Africa, the GBA President said the government could make a rule that all disputes relating to commercial activities in the country within a certain threshold should be submitted at first instance to the centre for resolution before other avenues were explored.
“We can then build that body of jurisprudence and a time will come when parties to disputes will voluntarily opt for the centre. This will also attract disputes from other African countries, and with support and hard work, Accra will become a centre of excellence for the settlement of commercial disputes in Africa,” he said.
Readiness of lawyers
Asked whether lawyers in the country were well versed in ADR to represent multinationals willing to patronise the services of an ADR centre, Mr Boafo said lawyers in Ghana were not only well versed in ADR but also were some of the brightest on the continent.
He said the country could boast of some of the most talented legal brains, compared to other common law jurisdictions.
According to him, there had been many instances when lawyers from Ghana had been part of international arbitration panels that settled complex commercial disputes.
“Recently, I was in Cape Verde with other lawyers from Ghana for a conference organised by the ECOWAS Court. If you compare Ghanaian lawyers to some of our colleagues from other countries, we are way ahead,” he said.
He said, unfortunately, in international arbitrations involving multinationals in Ghana, those companies opted for foreign firms, which in turn relied on firms in Ghana.
“Our lawyers do all the work, but these foreign firms take the big fees and pay us a pittance. In some of these commercial arbitrations, Ghanaian lawyers do the work; so when it comes to skills, we have them,” he added.
On what the GBA was doing to help society, Mr Boafo said the association was implementing an initiative to fight for the vulnerable and less-privileged in society.
Apart from donating to such people, he said, the GBA would also speak more on challenges confronting such groups and also provide free legal services, where necessary, for such persons.
“We are targeting, for example, rape victims, children and house helps who are being abused,” he said.
Again, he said, the GBA was working on going to court to enforce the directive principles of state policy, as enshrined in the 1992 Constitution.
According to him, with the Supreme Court declaring that the directive principles of state policy were presumptively justiciable, the GBA would take up the fight to ensure that they were enforced for a better country.
“The directive principles set the parameters within which the country should be governed to ensure a just, fair and inclusive society. We will look through them and where we think we have to go to court to seek enforcement, we will do that,” he said.
Development of GBA
Mr Boafo said the GBA had expanded its reach by employing information and communication technology (ICT) to make the services of lawyers more accessible to the public and was also using ICT to help in continuous legal education of lawyers.
He said the head office of the GBA had gone through massive renovation, while the association was seeking to construct three new regional offices in Ho, Kumasi and Tamale.