Rwanda's Judiciary is pushing for more uptake of mediation in commercial cases in a bid to reduce the huge number of cases flooding the relatively young commercial courts.
“We want to develop a well-functioning court-based mediation process that complements the existing litigation system,” said Chief Justice Sam Rugege, while launching a pilot mediation project in commercial courts.
Increased uptake of mediation would reduce the burden on commercial courts, which are overwhelmed with law suits.
Court-based mediation will mean a dispute can be referred before and after it is presented in court, but before a ruling is made.
The Rwandan Civil Procedure law allows judges in commercial courts to decide whether to mediate a case before them where they deem appropriate.
According to Fidel Masengo, the executive director of Kigali International Arbitration Centre (KIAC), which has also witnessed a slow uptake in mediation, a conservative mindset about court cases is to blame for the few cases being handled in mediation.
“Lawyers might think they will lose a substantial amount of their fees if they do not argue their cases before a judge in court. But since they will take part in settlement negotiations during mediation, their clients will still pay them,” said Prof Rugege.
Mediation has been shown to save on money.
To emphasise the commitment of the judiciary in promoting mediation, Prof Rugege offered incentives to those who will take it up.
“If financial institutions, corporates and other business organisations waiting for trial in commercial courts inform the relevant courts about their willingness to have their cases mediated, they will, as an incentive, be assigned an early court date,” said Prof Rugege.
However, enforcement of agreements reached through mediation remains controversial because non-adjudicatory processes, such as negotiation, conciliation, mediation, are not binding in themselves.
However, experts say mediated agreements last longer than imposed settlements because they are done in good faith and the parties voluntarily participate in drawing up the terms of the agreement.