Cape Chamber of Commerce launches the African Commercial Dispute Settlement Centre
Cape Town 29 February
All indicators point towards Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) playing a growing role in the traditional litigation process in South Africa and organisations in both the public and private sectors need to gear up for the new legal paradigm. The new Court Rules on Mediation make mediation a compulsory step for all civil and commercial litigation. A pilot project will be introduced in the second quarter of 2012 at all high courts and in nine regional civil courts.
The King III Report on corporate governance places a fiduciary duty on management to consider the use of ADR, in particular mediation, before deciding to litigate. In addition, the Medium Term Strategy of the Department of Justice gives a clear indication that government intends applying mediation to reduce the backlogs in courts. Internationally, many of SA’s trading partners, as well as institutions such as the World Bank and International Finance Corporation, use and promote the use of mediation for resolution of commercial disputes, including investment-related ones.
In response to this, as well as a growing call from business to reduce the operational and financial risks of litigation, the Cape Chamber of Commerce will open the African Commercial Dispute Settlement Centre. The Centre will give organisations across the Continent the chance to make use of alternative forms of dispute resolution (primarily mediation and arbitration) to resolve disputes quickly and cost-effectively making use of a professional, efficient service and circumventing the burden of litigation.
The Centre is a partnership between the Cape Chamber of Commerce, the Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement at Stellenbosch University Business School and Equillore, a leading provider of commercial dispute settlement services. Seed capital for the Centre comes from the Provincial Government of the Western Cape, Department of Economic Development and Tourism.
“The Cape Chamber believes that the Centre will have a significant impact on business in the region and will go a long way to assisting our businesses manage risk and operate confidently both locally and internationally,” says Viola Manuel, Executive Director of the Cape Chamber of Commerce.
Equillore will be functioning as the engine of the service and has managed more than 45 000 matters over its 12-year history. “The systems we have developed for the Centre make use of a multi-tier approach to conciliation, mediation and arbitration. It is uncomplicated, innovative and integrated with the civil justice system and the new rules of court. The electronic case management system will keep track of all events and exchanges of information and documents, and the Centre will provide parties with web-based access to case status and progress information,” explains Khanya Motshabi, Managing Director Equillore.
The Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement at Stellenbosch Business School contributes its expertise, development and research skills to ensure the rules, business processes and case management principles used at the Centre are, and continue to be in accordance with international best practice. The Cape Chamber, as a member of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) South Africa, has committed to benchmark its service to that of the ICC. This will ensure international credibility and allow it to open its doors to international organisations looking for a quality dispute resolution service on the Continent.
“We see immense benefit from a service such as this. It will become increasingly important for business to pro-actively engage in alternate dispute resolution as part of their business ethos. This will play a big part in local businesses successfully engaging with global players, who themselves prefer partnering with companies and countries who are committed to ADR,” comments Barney Jordaan, Head of the Africa Centre for Dispute Settlement at Stellenbosch University.
The African Commercial Dispute Settlement Centre, hosted by the Cape Chamber, is currently building on its existing panel of accredited mediators and arbitrators to ensure clients have access to a national pool of skills. “We are hand picking our panel and will ensure that businesses have access to professionals who have specific areas of focus. We are building a centre of excellence which will offer a specialised service to organisations looking for efficient and effective resolution to commercial disputes,” Jordaan explains.
The African Commercial Dispute Settlement Centre, hosted by the Cape Chamber, will open its doors to the public on the 16 March.
“A little known fact is that the Cape Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1804 to help resolve disputes between ships captains and local merchants. Over 200 years later, the Chamber continues to enable business through effective, non-partisan dispute settlement. We keep the gears of this economy turning,” Manuel concludes.
The African Commercial Dispute Settlement Centre will carry its agent, Equillore’s, Dispute Settlement Accreditation Council (DiSAC) accreditation, ensuring quality representation.
“While there is a diversity of views in relation to the need for accreditation standards for mediators and arbitrators, the weight of opinion and practice suggests that a uniform system of practitioner accreditation (such as DiSAC’s standards of accreditation) are necessary in South Africa particularly in light of the court-aligned mediation rules that are due to be implemented shortly,” comments Zarina Kellerman, Chairperson of DiSAC.
“Litigation lawyers who rely on the Uniform Rules to decide on the next step in a complex litigation process are out of date and out of step. Before court proceedings, during court proceedings, after court proceedings, modern dispute resolution lawyers design the most appropriate process solutions for problems facing their clients. Multi-jurisdictional disputes are obvious examples where this is necessary, but many complex domestic disputes cry out for alternative and effective processes to resolve them.
“The Chamber’s initiative is an excellent opportunity for lawyers who need suitable and independent facilities to arrange appropriate dispute processes. It should make Cape Town a world class centre for commercial dispute resolution,” comments Chris Todd, partner at Bowman Gillfillan