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KINGSTON — The country could see a draft amendment to the Arbitration Act by the end of September, as chief legislative drafters in the Ministry of Justice are now seeking to make changes to the law, which has not been updated since 1900.

The Ministry is collaborating with consultant, Professor John Rooney of the University of Miami with a view to adopting elements of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model International Commercial Arbitration Law.

Chief Technical Director in the Ministry, Cheryl Ivy, said yesterday (Sept. 15) that the initiative to have new arbitration legislation actually begun a decade ago and the Ministry is now moving "post haste" to complete the process.

She was speaking at a forum hosted by the University of the West Indies' (UWI) faculty of law in collaboration with the Dispute Resolution Foundation, and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators – Caribbean Branch, at the UWI's Mona campus.

"The Ministry is very keen, eager, and enthusiastic to implement a modern arbitration legislation framework in Jamaica. It presents an opportunity for Jamaica to provide leadership in the Caribbean, because we would now have the most modern arbitration legislation in the Caribbean," Ms. Ivy stated.

She said the partnership with the UWI faculty of law in collaboration with the Dispute Resolution Foundation, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators – Caribbean Branch, and the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) would ensure that the legislation developed would be suitable for the Jamaican socio-economic environment.

Mrs. Ivy informed that the draft legislation would be online within another week, and invited all stakeholders and the public to examine the document, and voice their suggestions and concerns, as the Ministry and its stakeholders sought to "bring Jamaica into the 21st century, where arbitration is concerned".

The forum was held to examine the existing Act and discuss the way forward for arbitration reform in Jamaica, including how the UNCITRAL model can be of benefit to the country.

Meanwhile, Professor Rooney, in outlining the opportunities and benefits for Jamaica in arbitration, said that updating the law would open many doors with respect to practice that may not otherwise be available.

"Also, as Jamaica becomes known as a centre for arbitration, then the list of local arbitrators also becomes more significant and more valuable," he noted.

For example, he said, if there is an arbitration seated in Jamaica, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Paris will look to the Jamaican national committee of the ICC for possible arbitral candidates.

"They don't want the parties to have to pay the expense of flying the arbitrator in, if there are suitable candidates here already. So…you will have greatly increased possibility of being named as an arbitrator, (and) a greatly increased possibility of representing a party in an arbitration and litigation before a court, and you also have a greatly increased opportunity of representing the party in the arbitration itself," he explained.

All of these prospects, Professor Rooney said, present several economic multipliers and benefits for local lawyers and the Jamaican economy as a whole.

Mr. Rooney, a 20-year practitioner, is past chair of the International Law Section of the Florida Bar, where he proposed the enactment of the UNICTRAL model, which was effected in July 2010. He is also chair of the Inter-American Bar Association's International Arbitration Law Committee, and is a consultant for UNCITRAL.

By Alphea Saunders, JIS Reporter & Editor