Rwanda: Lawyers Ready to Cash-In on Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms

18 September 2023

Lawyers say the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms that governments are pushing for do not mean that litigators will lose business, but rather they will provide more opportunities for work.

For the past two years, for instance, the Rwandan judiciary has put efforts into court-annexed mediation, a mechanism where court registrars, judges, and accredited mediators assist conflicting parties to settle disputes through mediation rather than litigation.

The mechanism is employed in cases where court officials deem mediation the better option. Other ADR mechanisms used in Rwanda include arbitration and conciliation.

Earlier this year, former Chief Justice Sam Rugege (now the head of the Advisory Committee of Professional Mediators), pointed a finger at some lawyers for not being enthusiastic about persuading their clients to take part in mediation.

"There are even those who actively discourage their clients from mediation," he said.

In an interview with The New Times on the sidelines of the International Bar Association (IBA) African Regional Forum Conference that took place in Kigali on September 13 to 15, Rwanda Bar Association (RBA)'s President Moise Nkundabarashi argued that lawyers ADR mechanisms are an opportunity for business for lawyers.

"These are technical alternative dispute resolution mechanisms that are mainly performed by lawyers. So, we look at this as an opportunity for business, not a reason for losing jobs. For example, when an arbitration is happening, the arbitrator will often be a lawyer. It is also allowed that the conflicting parties will be accompanied by their counsels," he noted.

Specifically, zeroing in on court-annexed mediation, he said 80 per cent of the accredited mediators on the roll compiled by the Supreme Court are lawyers. In addition to this, he noted that there are more lawyers being trained in ADR every year, thanks to a collaboration between the local justice sector and the USA's Edwards Mediation Academy.

Babatunde Ajibade, a Nigerian legal practitioner and arbitrator, told The New Times that lawyers no longer see ADR mechanisms as competition.

"Both judges and lawyers used to see any other form of dispute resolution as competition, but currently, I think there is a great recognition that ADR is actually complementary, especially in jurisdictions where the court systems are overburdened," he said.

"ADR is not a loss of business for lawyers; it creates another type of law that they can do," he added.

Likewise, Tim Hughes, the Deputy Executive Director of the IBA, highlighted that the key point is that lawyers can do both litigation and ADR.

"I am thinking about one of our recent presidents at the IBA - a top New York lawyer called David Rifkin. He is a fully qualified litigator and a fully qualified arbitrator. So, whichever route his client wants to take, he still represents them," he said.

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