Further to its accession to the New York Convention in 2020 (discussed in our blog post here), Sierra Leone’s House of Parliament has approved a new arbitration law. The Arbitration Act 2022 bill was introduced to the House by the Deputy Minister of Justice, Hon. Umaru Napoleon Koroma on 2 August 2022. The legislation now awaits signature by the President of Sierra Leone.

The Arbitration Act 2022 will replace and update the existing Sierra Leonean arbitration law, contained predominantly in Chapter 25 of the Laws of Sierra Leone 1960 (the 1960 Act). The 1960 Act was based on the English Arbitration Act 1950, but does not reflect any amendments made since, including those reflected in the English Arbitration Act 1996.

The new Act was initially developed by Sierra Leone’s Law Reform Commission, and reviewed by a team of arbitration specialists at Herbert Smith Freehills LLP. In 2021, Professor Abayomi Okubote and the Africa Arbitration Academy further developed the draft, and the final bill was agreed by the Government and presented to the House of Parliament.

The Arbitration Act 2022 intends to give force of law to Sierra Leone’s obligations under the New York Convention 1958 and to provide a modern arbitration framework for the country. As well as addressing key arbitration principles, the Arbitration Act 2022 tackles more recent developments, such as third party funding, and provides a legislative basis for the establishment of the Sierra Leone International Arbitration Centre.

Arbitration has been gaining momentum in Sierra Leone over the past few years. Freetown’s legal community boasts a number of experienced international arbitration practitioners and Sierra Leone has already taken practical steps to lay the groundwork for the further development of domestic and international arbitration. In particular, Andrew Cannon, Partner and Hannah Ambrose, Senior Associate have delivered training on international arbitration to key legal stakeholders in Freetown on a number of occasions in recent years, including as part of the long term partnership between the UK-Sierra Leone Pro Bono Network and the Judicial and Legal Training Institute of the Sierra Leone judiciary. Sierra Leone’s Hon. Chief Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards has been a strong backer of the reform of arbitration law, including in his recent keynote address to the Africa Arbitration Academy Conference.