British court rules against Sierra Leone in SL Mining jurisdiction case

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Britain’s High Court on Monday dismissed Sierra Leone’s challenge of a 2020 International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) decision over claims by SL Mining after a dispute over its iron ore mining operations in the country.

The miner, a subsidiary of U.S. commodity trader Gerald Group, filed for arbitration with the ICC in August 2019 and suspended its Marampa mine the following month.

Later that year, Sierra Leone cancelled the company’s mining licence, saying it had breached its contractual obligations. SL Mining denied the accusation.

Sierra Leone then challenged the ICC’s jurisdiction, arguing SL Mining should have waited three months from the July 14, 2019 notice of dispute before commencing arbitration proceedings.

Monday’s judgment “conclusively” dismissed Sierra Leone’s challenge and upheld a partial final award issued by ICC arbitrators last year concluding they had jurisdiction with regards to SL Mining’s claims, the company said in a statement.

The judge, Michael Burton, agreed with the arbitrators, saying the three-month period is set out for the two parties to have time to reach a settlement, but that the full period need not have elapsed before arbitration begins.

“As I put it in argument, it seemed to me clear that as at 30 August there was not a cat’s chance in hell of an amicable settlement by 14 October,” Burton said in the judgment.

In a release after the judgment, SL Mining said Sierra Leone has agreed to pay the company’s costs and will not appeal the judgment.

“The government has not lost the matter, we have just lost a jurisdictional issue, but the substantive matter remains,” said Sierra Leone’s Mines Minister, Timothy Kabba. “We still remain optimistic ... It’s a process, we are committed to the process.”

The ICC Arbitral Tribunal in February 2020 ordered Sierra Leone to reinstate SL Mining’s licence and lift any mineral export prohibition imposed on the company.

Reporting by Helen Reid; editing by David Evans and Devika Syamnath