Traditionally, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has been narrowly perceived as the mere resolution of civil disputes outside the formal court system. However, its dimensions transcend this conventional understanding. Alisdair Gillespie, in ‘The English Legal System’, offers a succinct definition: “The collective term for the ways that parties can settle civil disputes, with the help of an independent third party and without the need for a formal court hearing.” Yet, within the intricate tapestry of the Sierra Leone Legal System, this definition falls short. This article endeavours to explore ADR within the Sierra Leone Legal System comprehensively, encompassing its statutory integration, particularly within civil and criminal laws, and its application within the court system. Furthermore, it delves into the multifaceted influence of ADR, not only in civil disputes but also within the complex framework of the criminal justice system, while scrutinising the associated limitations.


ADR manifests in various forms, ranging from adjudicative mechanisms to consensual processes.

  • Arbitration: As the epitome of formality within the ADR spectrum, arbitration entails impartial third-party adjudicators, commonly referred to as arbitrators, who render binding decisions on disputes. In Sierra Leone, the governance of arbitration proceedings falls under The Arbitration Act No. 18 of 2022.
  • Mediation: Among the oldest ADR modalities in Sierra Leone, mediation involves an independent third party facilitating negotiations between disputants to reach mutually acceptable settlements. Often dubbed as ‘assisted negotiation,’ mediation serves as a cornerstone of dispute resolution.
  • Negotiation: Direct engagement between parties or their representatives characterises negotiation, wherein positions and demands are asserted and iteratively exchanged until consensus is achieved. Negotiation stands as a fundamental aspect of ADR processes, fostering direct dialogue and mutual understanding.
  • Conciliation: Emphasising consensus-building, conciliation involves parties and an impartial third party (conciliator) engaging in joint or separate meetings, exchanging offers and counteroffers to reach amicable resolutions. Particularly pertinent in preserving post-dispute relationships, conciliation underscores collaborative problem-solving.


Sierra Leone’s Constitution mandates the utilisation of ADR methods, including mediation, conciliation, and arbitration, for the resolution of international disputes. Recent legislative enactments reinforce ADR’s pivotal role in expeditious dispute resolution across diverse sectors, as exemplified in Acts such as the Political Parties Act of 2022, The Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion Act No. 3 of 2020, and the Consumer Protection Act No. 7 of 2020, among others.


Although ADR’s application within Sierra Leone’s criminal justice system is constrained by statutory limitations, notable inclusions exist. For instance, the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Act of 2008 offers suspects the option to refund embezzled amounts or face prosecution. Similarly, the Domestic Violence Act of 2007 allows for ADR in non-aggravated domestic violence cases, while the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act prohibits any compromise regarding sexual offences.


Beyond traditional out-of-court settlements, ADR is institutionally embedded within Sierra Leone’s court system. The Commercial and Admiralty Court Rules 2020 mandate mandatory ADR before trial, particularly aimed at expediting resolution in commercial disputes. Additionally, the Magistrates’ Courts (Small Commercial Claims) Rules of 2021 establish the Small Claims Court, facilitating ADR for smaller commercial claims, with provisions for pre-trial settlement conferences.


Contrary to prevailing misconceptions, ADR in Sierra Leone transcends mere extrajudicial dispute resolution, entwining itself deeply within the fabric of statutory frameworks. Its integration, both within civil and criminal domains, signals a significant paradigm shift in the legal landscape. As the judiciary increasingly embraces ADR, particularly in commercial matters, the journey towards a more accessible and efficient justice system continues, albeit with lingering challenges demanding nuanced solutions.

By Kemeh Kamara, BA(French), LLB (Hons), Legal Practitioner.

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