It is without a doubt that disputes normally arise in the course of human interactions. Before now, whenever these disputes arose, there was just one official, prominent method used as the only option of settling disputes – litigation. However, with time, there emerged a growing need to recognize other forms of dispute resolution, apart from litigation. This was as a result of the problems that bedeviled people from getting access to justice. This led to the recognition of other forms of resolving disputes which were termed ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (hereinafter referred to as ADR), just like the term implies, is the process of settling a dispute without resorting to litigation. This involves using different other methods of settling a dispute without going to a courtroom. The concept of ADR is one that has been in existence for a long time. This is because, right from time, humans have used different ADR mechanisms to resolve disputes. From negotiating the price of a good, to trying to solve disputes between two friends, mediation, ADR has always been inculcated in our daily activities.
However, ADR did not gain much recognition in Nigeria until 2002 when the Lagos Multi-door Court House (LMDC) was established as a result of the efforts of Lagos State Judiciary, the United States Embassy (D & G Program) and the Negotiation and Conflict Management Group (NCMG), a non-profit private organization.[i]
A Multi-door Court House (hereinafter referred to as MDCH), is an innovative institution that routes incoming court cases to the most appropriate methods of dispute resolution which saves time and cost. It further emphasizes an extra-judicial dispute resolution, designed to complement the court and parties resolving a dispute.[ii] The MDCH is the fusion of different methods of ADR into an existing court system while altering the existing structures, rules, and composition of the existing court system.[iii]
As a result of the establishment of MDCH in Lagos, other states have followed in this innovation and established their respective MDCH in their states with a total of 14 MDCH in Nigeria. It is important to note that each state’s MDCH is regulated by the state’s laws. For instance, Order 25(1) (2) (c) of the High court Laws of Lagos State 2003, provides that any action may be brought for the amicable settlement of cases through the adoption of ADR and Section 24 also provides that any action promoted for reconciliation among parties, may be facilitated by referral to ADR at the Multi-door Court House.
Section 19(d) of the 1999 Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended), gave the foundation on the use of ADR in Nigeria. The section provides that settlement of disputes can be done by Arbitration, Mediation, Conciliation, Negotiation, and Adjudication. However, the principal law regulating ADR is The Arbitration and Conciliation Act (ACA) CAP 19-LFN 1990. The different state laws regulating MDCH include the Oyo State Multi-door Courthouse Law of 2017, the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse (LMDC) Law of 2007, and the Enugu State Multi-Door Courthouse of 2018.
Different types of ADR are in existence such as negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, mediation-arbitration also known as Med-Arb or hybrid, mini-trial, and consumer adjudication. However, the most common forms of ADR are Arbitration, Conciliation, Mediation, and Negotiation.
Arbitration is a form of ADR that occurs when parties to a dispute agree to involve a neutral third party of their choice, known as the Arbitrator, to settle the dispute between both parties. What makes arbitration distinct is the fact that after listening to both parties, the decision of the Arbitrator is final and binding on both parties. Mediation is similar to arbitration. However, what makes it distinct is the fact that the decision is non-binding. The mediator works with the parties to come to a solution that is made mutually, and the agreements are generally non-binding.[iv] Conciliation is similar to mediation; however, conciliation is more formal than mediation. Lastly, negotiation is a process whereby two or more parties hold discussions in an attempt to develop a consensus on an issue and is well an indispensable step in an ADR process.
An important feature of the ADR is its confidentiality and privacy. Confidentiality and privacy are the foundation of ADR, and this is ensured through a confidentiality agreement (also called Non-Disclosure Agreement) that is entered before the ADR process begins. Also, when a dispute is taken to the MDCH, the statute of limitations on the dispute is suspended. In an ADR proceeding, there is no formal record of the proceedings except with the consent of the parties. Moving on, the parties may also send to the neutral third party who is settling the dispute documents which they want to disclose in private. In MDCH, disputes are mostly settled within 30 days, which starts from the day the neutral third party is appointed. Information obtained during an ADR proceeding is not admissible as evidence in any current or subsequent ADR process. Lastly, once a settlement agreement is written and after all the parties have signed, the settlement is endorsed by an ADR judge and this makes the settlement agreement to carry the same weight as a consent judgment.
When an ADR process starts, there are certain roles that parties play for the success of the proceeding. Parties to an ADR process include the neutral party, the lawyers, and the parties to the dispute. The neutral third party is to impartially assist the parties to meet a decision and cannot impose a decision on the party except the neutral party is an arbitrator. The neutral party must always consider the best interest of both parties. The neutral party can also bring the proceeding to an end when, in his opinion, no further efforts can be made to resolve the dispute.
The lawyers are saddled with the responsibility of playing an advisory role to the parties. The lawyers are to also ensure that their clients comply with all the rules and regulations. The lawyers have the duty not to instigate their clients to seek an unnecessary adjournment. The lawyers must enlighten clients on the different types of ADR available to ensure the speedy conclusion of the process. Lastly, the lawyers must maintain the confidentiality of the process.The parties to the dispute are saddled with the responsibility of attending the proceedings with good faith. They are to keep the proceedings confidential and are to ensure corporation with the neutral third party.
There are many advantages associated with ADR and MDCH which has led to its development. A major advantage of ADR is confidentiality. Unlike court proceedings which are made public, ADR ensures that the disputes between the parties are kept away from the public. ADR saves time compared to a court process. ADR aids in the decongestion of the courts. It also helps in promoting a cordial relationship between the parties. ADR allows the parties to be more involved in the dispute resolution process compared to litigation where it is the lawyers who are more involved in the process. Lastly, ADR helps in saving costs. However, despite its advantages, there are few limitations associated with ADR. Notable amongst the disadvantages is that it is only civil matters that can be brought to a MDCH. Also, certain civil matters cannot be brought to the MDCH such as a declaration of rights, divorce injunction, election petition, and enforcement of fundamental rights.
In conclusion, the advent of ADR and the MDCH has been of great advantage to the justice system. Though the concept of ADR just because prominent, its application has long been in existence. This article has examined what ADR is, how it led to the establishment of the MDCH, its advantages, and limitations, the different types, and parties that make up the process.
Boluwatife Faturoti, a 300L Student of the University of Ibadan, writes from HARLEM.
[i] Akeredolu Alero, (2010) Enforceability of Alternative Dispute Resolution Agreements: What is New under
the Lagos Multi-Door Courthouse Law? 6 Nigerian Bar Journal 1 (2010) 202
[ii]‘ What is the Multi-Door Courthouse Concept Multi-door courthouse and the benefit negotiation brings to litigation’ (Harvard Law School, August 22, 2019)<https://www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/international-negotiation-daily/a-discussion-with-frank-sander-about-the-multi-door-courthouse/#:~:text=The%20multi%2Ddoor%20courthouse%20is,in%20practice%20in%20ADR%2C%20see>
[iii] Oyeniyi, Ajigboye. (2014). The Concept of Multi-Door Courthouse in Nigeria: Rethinking Frank Sander’s Concept. Akungba Law Journal. 1. 10.2139/ssrn.2525677
[iv] ‘Types of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)’ (Legal Match) <https://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/types-of-alternative-dispute-resolution-adr.html>