BEIRUT: Among the flurry of laws passed during the first legislative session of the new Parliament earlier this week was one that experts hope will reduce the load on civil and commercial courts, while at the same time attract more foreign investment.
Johanna Hawari-Bourjeily, founder and director of the Professional Mediation Center at Saint Joseph University, which proposed a first draft of the law in 2009 will confer the option of being able to find a “win-win situation” in cases where there would otherwise be “two losers.”
“Judicial mediation will be really important for our country ... for civil and commercial cases,” she told The Daily Star.
Where a civil or commercial dispute exists, she explained, the parties have the option of suspending the case and choosing a mediator from a number of other mediation centers that will be established around the country. If the parties reach a solution, a report would be passed to the judge to sign off; if they don’t, the case would then go the courts, but the mediation process would remain entirely confidential with no prejudice to either side.
The legislation now has to be studied by President Michel Aoun. If the president has any comment, he can return the law to Parliament. If he accepts the law, it will be signed off by himself, the prime minister and the justice minister.
“It’s very important because it facilitates the work and it is easier, quicker and faster to solve any conflict between two parties,” said Charbel Chbeir, a rapporteur at the Beirut Bar Association’s ICT Center. “It’s a way to solve things amicably.” The latter point is especially important in, for instance, inheritance cases that can cause irreparable rifts between family members.
The new law brings Lebanon closer to international trends, with many countries adopting laws that enable the possibility of resolving cases in certain courts through mediation or other alternative dispute resolution methods. A number of EU countries, such as the U.K., France and Belgium, have mediation channels.
The practice is still rare in the Middle East and North Africa, but in 2016, Jordan adopted a mediation law, while Morocco and Algeria also have court-sanctioned mediation processes.
The passage of Lebanon’s mediation law, said Nassib Ghobril, head of economic research at Byblos Bank, is a “very good step in the right direction because the business environment and the investment climate in Lebanon have regressed in the past few years.
“Seventy percent of countries have a better business environment than Lebanon, according to the World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking for 2018, and 77 percent of countries have a more competitive economy than Lebanon, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index for 2017-18,” he said.
The potential cost and time burden of settling disputes in the courtroom was one of a number of issues discouraging investment from outside Lebanon, the economist said.
“It’s a burden not only on foreign investors but on local businesses as well. It’s part of the overall cost of doing business in Lebanon.”
“Lebanon is an economy that is in a very competitive world,” he added. “We need to compete with other Arab economies and other economies in emerging markets to attract foreign investments.”
Chbeir said the law should have a significant impact on the means of settling business disputes.
“All business [disputes] ... should be solved by mediation or by arbitration,” he said.
At the moment, he said, businesses have to go abroad to access ADRs. “Now we’ve got the jurisdiction within the law, we have a platform now.
“It’s important to Lebanon. It’s a platform for all the businessmen and companies that want to work and make it easier to [avoid] the long process of the court in Lebanon and to avoid all the big expenses.”