By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas has the potential to establish itself as a leading arbitration hub within three-five years, an international executive said yesterday, ahead of a conference that will discuss creating a Bahamian international commercial court for the Americas.
Michael Stephens, the London-based president of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, told Tribune Business that the support and commitment of both the Government and judiciary were vital if the Bahamas was to succeed in an industry that is now being targeted by both the Christie administration and private sector.
Speaking ahead of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration’s (ICCA) Nassau pre-convention, scheduled for this Friday, Mr Stephens said it was evident that the Bahamas possessed “no shortage of enthusiasm and commitment” for the task, as shown by the rapid growth of his Institute’s Bahamas branch.
Describing the Bahamas as an “up and coming jurisdiction”, he told Tribune Business that developing an arbitration centre capability would “complement” the Americas region.
Looking ahead to Friday’s conference, Mr Stephens said: “One of the things being discussed is for the creation of an international commercial court to respond to regional arbitration needs, and also to promote the Bahamas as a maritime arbitration hub, conscious of the fact Miami is promoting itself as a specialist arbitration hub.”
Mr Stephens added that Miami would likely represent the Bahamas’ biggest competition in its bid to become the arbitration hub for the Caribbean and Latin America. Other potential rivals are Mexico and Brazil.
“There is competition to be had, so every effort must be made, and for the Bahamas to look to its laurels,” the Institute president told Tribune Business.
He also backed suggestions that the Bahamas exploits its vast financial services business book by promoting itself as a specialist in trust and other estate planning-related arbitration. This concept is set to be promoted by the Bahamas’ Chapter at trust and estate planning conferences.
“Enthusiasm, commitment, together with good leadership, will bring results,” Mr Stephens said, outlining the key ingredients the Bahamas would require to succeed in establishing an international arbitration hub.
Asked how long this effort might take, he added: “It’s difficult to say. I’d like to think it would build year-on-year. It will not be overnight, but it could take three to five years.”
With its strong, deep pool of legal and accounting talent, coupled with its common law and existing legal/court infrastructure, Mr Stephens said the Bahamas’ geographical location meant it had many of the necessary characteristics to fulfill its ambitions.
While an arbitration centre would attract clients with money, and create increased demand for legal and financial services, the Institute president said the main benefits would be “invisible, “building reputation that’s difficult to value”.
The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) has been in discussions with the Government to develop a local arbitration capacity, which would reduce the time and costs expended by companies in dealing with costly court-based litigation.
Mr Stephens also agreed with Dr Peter Maynard, the attorney and former Bahamas Bar Association president, that arbitration could be extended beyond commercial disputes to help settle quarrels between different persons in the community.
“Arbitration is generally a more flexible process than litigation, where you can have a judge who has specialised expertise fit in with the timetable of the parties,” he added, “plus it’s private, confidential and ultimately legally binding.”
Friday’s ICCA pre-convention will feature speakers from Europe and elsewhere, plus the likes of Dame Joan Sawyer and Allyson Maynard-Gibson, the attorney general.
Praising the Bahamas branch and its president, Bertha Cooper-Rousseau, Mr Stephens said the Institute would provide support for its training initiatives and goal of delivering high-quality standards.