Expanding frontiers of ADR: National Industrial Court of Nigeria’s approach (4)

National-Industrial-Court-of-Nigeria-Calabar2-1156x500-600x416Continued from last week
This however appeared to be remedied by the provisions of Article 1(3)(a) where it states thus: “Provided that the Director of the centre in consultation with the President of the Court may direct that session(s) for mediation or conciliation be held at any of the States within any of the component States that made up the zone”

Similarly, Article 1(3)(b) provides that: “The President of the Court shall have power to relocate any of the Centres to any of the States comprising the zone, in the interest of peace, security or any unforeseen contingency which may make the operation of the Court impossible or unsafe”

As elaborate and explanatory as the above may be and with respect to whatever consideration, the President would have adopted, our respected and honest view is that a place like Lagos shouldn’t have been denied an ADR Centre. The merits for this are too numerous to mention here. As indicated already, an early amendment would be appreciated. With respect, the same argument goes for Port Harcourt. Warri is not even a central position or State capital in the South-South zone. It may have everything to merit or deserve an ADR Centre but other considerations favour Port Harcourt for now, in our humble opinion.

There is no doubt that the instruments creating and establishing the ADR Centre and the Rules are works in progress. They are both pioneering efforts which are most appreciated. We are glad that the Court has come to the realization that today the case for Alternative Dispute Resolution is stronger than ever. The support it commands in the industrial and commercial world is greater than ever.

This general overview of the effort of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria in expanding the frontiers of ADR by the establishment of the ADR Centres and setting out its Rules wouldn’t be complete without a thought of some recommendation on how the Centre can effectively work.

Today, we have many professional bodies in the ADR sector with list of its members who are efficient in their practice. The ADR Centre can demand for the list from these bodies to select members who can effectively work with the Court and the Centre.

The need for training and retraining cannot be overemphasized. Since the bulk of its staff are drawn from the Court, there is the need for adequate training of these staff both within and outside the country on the rudiments of these mode of disputes resolution mechanisms. Additionally, once in a while experts can be called upon to offer training in these fields. Nigeria is blessed with so many professionals in this aspect of life that training facilities and resources wouldn’t be so much an issue. Visitations can be carried out to institutions such as the Lagos State Multi Door Court House to understudy and learn from their success stories.

Disputes must be resolved both economically and fast. We have earlier on identified the need to set time limit for the resolution of each case. Disputes must be resolvable without prohibitive cost or inordinate delay. The abolition of interlocutory applications is a step in the right direction. Making the system to be flexible, user friendly and with minimal cost will surely touch the lives of it users. It should be noted that most of the users of the system are likely to be those who have been disposed of their jobs and source of livelihood and it would be most unwise to impose more hardship on them in the name of seeking justice.

We will also advocate a kind of quarterly orientation meetings with Counsel and Legal Practitioners who are stakeholders in this effort on their role in the entire process. The system does not give room for technicalities and much legal verbosities. In addition to this, a public enlightenment programme should be put in place to educate the populace on the existence, usage and merits of this unique resource as a means of dispute resolution within the premises of the Court.

The need to expand the mechanisms for the ADR Centres cannot be overemphasized rather than limiting it to mediation, conciliation and neutrals. Arbitration as a means of ADR cannot be ignored being a foremost ADR mechanism. We have already suggested the establishment of the ADR Centres in all the jurisdictions of the Court, Lagos and Port Harcourt.

In our follow up article, we shall endeavour to examine the specific provisions of the various articles in the Instrument establishing the ADR Centre, the provisions of the Rules and practicability of the entire process.

It seems to us that alternative dispute resolution is increasingly playing an important role in upholding the key features of the rule of law both nationally and internationally. A number of factors are working together to elevate the status of ADR in our dispensation. The practitioners have a duty to act judicially, a duty they owe not merely to the parties but to the public. To a large extent, the success or otherwise of this novel idea in the Court system will depend on them. They need to uphold the vital standards of independence and competence and give effects to contractual rights in accordance with substantive and procedural legal principle, thereby helping to ensure the rule of law. Provided that the stakeholders perform, and are seen to perform their role honestly, completely, expeditiously and above all independently and in accordance with the law, confidence in the system will be developed, established and maintained. This will reflect the fundamental importance of ADR as an alternative form of dispute resolution outside litigation and it will continue to move from strength to strength, and in so doing, promotes and upholds the rule of law nationally and globally. ADR has come to stay. Let us all encourage it. It is not new in our society as such as its existence predates the court system in our society.

We look forward to interesting developments and the applicability of the new regime and its contributions to providing an efficient and effective dispute resolution; the interplay of interests and intrigues between the parties; the display of skills and knowledge of the subject by all the stakeholders; the role of the Court in referring cases to the Centre, its interpretative role and enforcement of the decisions and awards from the Centre; etc.

In the words of the President of the Court while commissioning the Bauchi State division of the Court: “Once the Centre becomes operational it would add impetus to the efforts towards ensuring that employment, labour, industrial relations and workplace related disputes are resolved quickly and without hurting existing working relationships. Our efforts in this respect align with the vision of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, who has commendably identified that ADR processes, as panacea to the problem of over-filled dockets and unnecessary delay in the administration of justice, cannot be overemphasized.”
And so be it!

Ekpo is of Rocheba Solicitors, Mediation Advocates.

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