Nana Dr. S.K.B. Asante, Chairman of the Ghana Arbitration Centre, has urged Ghanaian lawyers to acquire expertise in arbitration since it is a major part of modern legal practice which they cannot afford to ignore.
He said Ghanaian lawyers are basically disqualifying themselves for effective representation of their clients especially in international commercial arbitration at a time that the country is on the brink of a major explosion of international commercial transactions following the discovery of oil.
Dr. Asante was speaking in Accra yesterday at an interactive forum between the centre and the media aimed at creating greater awareness of the need for people to resort to arbitration as a means of resolving commercial disputes.
Arbitration is a method of alternative dispute resolution in which disputing parties agree to abide by the decision of an arbitrator. The decision is given after an informal proceeding where each side presents evidence and witnesses.
Dr. Asante stressed that the failure of the Ghana Bar to embrace arbitration and to develop skills in handling it literally means ceding a major part of modern legal practice to foreign law firms.
'Under the Ghana Investments Promotion Centre Act, investors have the right to insist on international arbitration as a mechanism for the settlement of their investment disputes with the government,' he said.
He said the African experience of international commercial arbitration is bedeviled by a woeful lack of expertise and enlightenment.
'African parties to international commercial transactions often find themselves hauled before international arbiters in distant capitals that invoke and apply procedures, rules and laws and issue rulings of which they have little understanding. The results have been disastrous for some African parties,' he stated.
Dr Asante urged the business community to welcome arbitration as an alternative to litigation because it is an effective and expeditious means of resolving commercial disputes. 'Businessmen who appreciate the value of time will recognise the essential utility of arbitration,' he added.
Since the centre’s establishment 10 years ago, Dr. Asante said it has resolved about 30 commercial disputes, involving both local and foreign firms.
'This year, we have about 10 disputes, while some have been settled, others are on-going,' he stated.
He said in some cases, the parties chose to adopt the centre’s rules without total recourse to it but in other cases, parties have consulted it about the appointment of particular arbitrators.
Dr. Asante expressed appreciation to DANIDA for its support to the centre over the years, saying, with its assistance, a number of lawyers had been exposed to arbitration seminars abroad.