Mr Akintoye Sowemimo is an Arbiter. He has been engaged in Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice for over 33 years. He recently chatted with JULIANA FRANCIS, explaining what ADR is all about and its benefits to Nigerians.
Tell us about yourself
I am Arbiter, S. Akintoye Sowemimo, a legal practitioner by training and qualification. I attended university in the United Kingdom, and I also attended Nigerian Law School in 1982 thereafter I was called to the Bar. I developed an interest in Arbitration as far back as the early 1980s whilst working in the firm of Fani Kayode and Sowemimo, one of the first indigenous law firms in the country.
I attended Queen Mary and Westfield College University of London for my postgraduate course in Arbitration and since then, I have been in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Practice. I have been in the practice of ADR for about 33years of my almost 40 years at the bar.
I have written a number of books for public enlightenment, and education to promote the practice of ADR in Nigeria and presently I am a member of the federal government committee on drafting a National Arbitration Policy.
I am also the Head/Lead of the Sub Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution and Small Claims. I also oversee the development of a professional body MEDARB INITIATIVE which was recently registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). I Conceptualised the idea of a Dispute Resolution Practice which is more like a practice development of Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice. Dispute Resolution Practice was conceptualised to address some of the challenges of the legal and justice system and the Alternative Dispute resolution system.
What is Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice?
Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice originated from the need to address some of the challenges and problems with the legal system-Litigation or going to court. Litigation has been bogged down globally with a lot of challenges and problems. ADR is the umbrella body for all types of processes for resolving disputes rather than going to court. ADR in short is the alternative of going to court to resolve a dispute.
What is the difference between ADR practice and Dispute resolution practice?
Since the origination or conceptualisation of Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice, there has been some development and progression. But the system and practice also have its own problems and challenges, resulting from which Dispute Resolution Practice was conceptualised.
The idea of Dispute Resolution Practice is to address the challenges of the Alternative Dispute Resolution System and practice and the legal system and practice.
Dispute Resolution Practice is distinct from Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice. There is a fine line between the two practices.
Dispute Resolution Practice encompasses all processes of resolving disputes including the legal process. It includes mitigation and all other resolution processes. Dispute resolution practice is a multi-skill practice whereby a professional will have the knowledge and skill of all the processes for resolving disputes.
The advantage of this is that one person, a multi-skilled professional, can utilise any of the processes that are most appropriate to resolve a particular dispute.
A particular dispute may have so many issues involved. The most common area is a family matrimonial dispute, which involves ascertaining rights; the rights of the two parties, and the rights of the children involved. It also involves custody issues, proprietary matrimonial rights, and the right to seek divorce as the case may be. The matrimonial dispute involves so many issues that a particular issue may require one process to resolve it while another issue may require another process to resolve it.
So in the course of resolving a matrimonial dispute, it may entail using different processes to achieve a satisfactory result. Dispute resolution is a cost-effective process in that it is more economical than using separate processes administered by different professionals.
A dispute resolution practice is a one-stop shop where one professional will be able to handle all the various issues involved in the dispute using the most appropriate, economical process to resolve it. It is possible for one to use various types of processes in a particular dispute. Dispute Resolution (DR) practice is recognised in other countries like Canada and Australia which have been in the practice of using various dispute resolution processes including the legal in a particular dispute.
The multi-skilled professional will be in a better position to satisfactorily resolve a dispute that has many issues and will be more economical than using various dispute resolution practitioners’ lawyers, that is legal practitioners, Mediators and arbitrators with quite distinct practices on their own. Dispute resolution practice and practitioner is the combination of all the dispute resolution processes and practices.
What are the benefits of this practice to Nigerians or Lagosians?
The benefit of Alternative Dispute Resolutions and Practice is that it does not require representation by any professional.
ADR accommodates members of the public who are quite capable and competent to appear before an ADR Center or Court. You do not need to be a Legal practitioner to appear in an ADR Center or Court.
Once you are capable of and competent to present your case, you can personalize it and with the assistance of the staff of the Center be able to present your case at the end. There are no legal or professional fees involved when you are representing or presenting your case yourself.
The neutral or the third party is also a person who will be in a position to assist parties to present their case effectively. Some of the Centers and Courts in Nigeria are the Multi Door Courts which have been established in various states.
The Multi-Door Courts in some states are equivalent to a High Court where they have Alternative Dispute Resolution Judges who are High Court Judges to ensure the effectiveness of any agreement or decision of the Multi-Door Court. In short, the effectiveness and enforcement of matters that have been resolved in the Court and the Centers. The cost implications are minimal at the ADR Center and Court but you have to pay administrative fees once it is self-representation, the professional fees are completely out of the question.
What’s its benefit to the Criminal Justice System and how does the practice work with the CJS?
Alternative Dispute Resolution Systems and Processes originated mainly to address the challenges of the legal system (Litigation). However, the criminal justice system has also benefitted from the equivalent of ADR which is the Alternative process to dealing with criminal matters. We have the victim-offender mediation scheme, whereby minor offences can be dealt with by the scheme.
Offences involving criminal damage, minor offences, breach of peace and other summary offences that are more minor offences, can be dealt with by way of victim offender scheme.
The victim will consent to it, the offender will be ready to apologise and possibly pay compensation to the victim where necessary. ADR or Alternative Dispute Resolution process comprises resolution processes to deal with civil matters.
Does it involve money for those seeking to take that route?
The alternative Dispute Resolution process is a much speedier process to resolve disputes and is cost-effective. It is not as expensive as taking legal action and most cases are resolved on time, unlike litigation which normally takes a longer period of time, like years.
An average Alternate Dispute Resolution matter shouldn’t take more than three to six months to arrive at a solution or resolution as the case may be.
Is it backed by the law? How can parties be made to keep to agreement reached?
The alternative Dispute Resolution system is backed up by the laws of various states in the country. A number of the Multi-Door Courts, Civil mediation Centres or ADR Centres have been established by laws enacted by various governments or states in which they are situated.
Some Multi Door Courts and Alternative Dispute Resolution centres are established by virtue of a practice direction of a high court of the state in which they are situated. The need for more legal backing is being proposed.
Presently we have an Arbitration and Mediation Act or law which has recently been passed by the National Assembly but has yet to receive presidential assent. As the years go by, more laws will be passed to fortify and give the Alternative Dispute Resolution system and process the necessary backing for effectiveness.
There are provisions for the outcome of Alternative Dispute Resolution processes to be given the force of law and enforcement. For example, in cases in Lagos State that start off at the Citizens Mediation Centres like the landlord and tenant case, where possession is being sought, in the unlikely event a tenant fails to give up possession after the due date agreed upon by the parties, the matter will be taken to the Multi-Door Court for enforcement process to commence before an ADR Judges, who will then give or make an order, after hearing the parties to the agreement.
The ADR Judge order becomes like a judgement of the court and is enforceable like any other judgement of the court by the sheriff/Baliff
Persons who are interested in utilising ADR Courts and Centres can visit the Court which are annexed to the High court. The Multi-Door Courts are annexed to the high court, some are within the high court premises and then the Centres are located all over the states.
For example, Lagos has a Citizen Mediation Centre in various parts of the states, usually, they located within the council, the local government council area and headquarters within the states.
Being an expert in ADR, what’s your reaction to police being involved in civil matters?
The involvement of the police in civil matters is to avert breach of peace and to maintain law and order.
The problems and delays experienced by the Public seeking justice and resolution of their dispute within the Civil Justice system can be frustrating, such that parties to a civil dispute in seeking to put their position across to the other may engage in a confrontation. Sometimes a physical confrontation leads to a breach of peace and police involvement.
In some cases, parties to a civil matter in an attempt to expedite action and obtain some sort of resolution may report or otherwise is just a simple civil matter by framing a criminal complaint to bring the matter within the jurisdiction of the Police.
Can ADR get involved in a civil matter already with the police?
A civil matter with the Police can be brought back to the civil justice system. The alleged offender can file an action for any breach of fundamental human rights and action for abuse of Process. Abuse of Process is a civil wrong which occurs when a person uses a wrong process to address a wrong.BEWARE All Rights Reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without prior express written permission from Juliana Francis