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Burch eyes 2022 for arbitration centre

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works (File photograph)

An international arbitration centre in Hamilton could be up and running in less than two years through a public-private partnership deal with an American construction company.Plans for the five-storey Ottiwell A. Simmons International Arbitration Centre have been drawn up by a local architect, and it is intended the centre will also serve as a mediation centre for island residents involved in minor disputes, as well as for international arbitrations.Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the public works minister, told the House of Assembly that there had been advanced discussions with Chicago-based Milhouse Engineering & Construction on the creation of the centre as a public-private partnership “at no cost to Government”.The centre is earmarked for the site of the now-demolished former Hamilton Police Station on Parliament Street.Mr Burch told MPs: “The details of the financing of this project is the final hurdle — the term sheet is still being reviewed by the Ministry of Finance and as soon as we get the green light — the financing specifics of the project will likewise be reported. “We anticipate an early response that will lead to construction beginning in December 2020 and delivery of a complete building 15 months later in March 2022.”It is planned that the building will have meeting rooms, office space, ground floor shops, a cafeteria, elevators, underground parking, and an balcony which could be used for entertainment.There have been growing calls for Bermuda to seize the chance to become the leading international arbitration centre for the Americas.But Cayman and the British Virgin Islands have similar ambitions.Mark Chudleigh, a partner at law firm Kennedys, said: “It is exciting to think we may have the arbitration centre up and running in a little over 18 months.“Although I have seen plans for the building, before they are finalised I would suggest they be reviewed to ensure that they can accommodate the evolving technology required for virtual hearings which have become increasingly common since the Covid restrictions came into place in March. Mr Chudleigh added: “A number of companies have seized the opportunity presented and have designed new platforms to assist that process and by the time the Ottiwell Simmons centre opens, I expect the technology to have evolved to the point where the use of multiple video screens and private communication channels for the arbitrators, the parties and their lawyers will get close to replicating a live, in-person hearing.”Mr Chudleigh said the technology could mean a series of “cockpit” like environments around the world where arbitration participants in Bermuda and other countries interacted as if they were in a single hearing venue. He added: “Obviously, this development will reduce the numbers of visitors to the island that we might otherwise have seen, but we must face the reality of the world we now live in and we do not want to spend taxpayers’ money on building a facility that is not fit for purpose.”Mr Chudleigh said there would still be a place for traditional hearings, but that increasingly people would opt for less expensive and alternatives that cut out the need to be away from home territory for long periods.Colonel Burch told MPs the centre would be “a world-class facility with the potential to put Bermuda on the map as well as to encourage local lawyers to go into the arbitration field.“And, of course, it cannot be lost on anyone that this, too, will also provide jobs and economic stimulus in the country when it is most needed”.He said it was expected that Milhouse executives would visit the island next week for a ground-breaking ceremony attended by Ottiwell Simmons, the former Progressive Labour Party MP and president of the Bermuda Industrial Union.• To read Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch’s statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”