As a former French and British colony, the legal system in Mauritius has been influenced to a large extent by the legal systems of both countries. The hybrid legal system is governed by the French Civil Code and English common law. Company law, trust law, criminal procedure, and the law of evidence are mostly imported from the English legal system, while the Code Civil, Code de Procedure Civile and Code de Commerce follow French laws – with some changes brought in over the years to suit the Mauritian context and accommodate local conditions.
In terms of the judiciary, the Privy Council serves as the final appellate court for both civil and criminal cases, while the Supreme Court heads the judicial system as a court of higher jurisdiction and as an appellate court.
The Mauritius legal system and judiciary are currently undergoing major reforms with a view to modernising the system. One notable addition to the judiciary is the Mediation Division of the Supreme Court, inaugurated in June 2011. Mediation aims to provide a prompt dispute resolution mechanism to parties, and in so doing reduce the costs involved in a case, and avoid undue delays.
Recently, the Law Practitioners Act 1984 was amended to provide for the establishment of a Council for Vocational Legal Education, and allow a Mauritian citizen who has obtained a professional qualification equivalent to that of barrister in another Commonwealth country or in America to practise as a barrister in Mauritius. In the near future, Mauritius will see the establishment of an Institute for Judicial and Legal Studies, which will manage the training of prospective magistrates and the ongoing training of judicial and legal officers.
The liberalisation of the legal services market with the adoption of the Law Practitioners (Amendment) Act 2008, enables foreign law firms to establish local offices or joint ventures in Mauritius alongside Mauritian lawyers. This makes Mauritius an attractive jurisdiction. The country is also positioning itself as a regional centre for international dispute resolution, and is actively promoting for international legal practitioners to represent parties and to act as arbitrators in international commercial arbitrations in Mauritius. This will create more opportunities for the Mauritian legal sector and provide a better framework for Mauritius to establish itself in the international legal arena.
Recent business legislation
The global business sector in Mauritius commenced operations in 1992, offering services to both the local and offshore sectors. The Financial Services Commission is the authority responsible for the licensing and regulation of non-banking financial services, including the insurance sector. The Financial Services Act 2007, the Insurance Act 2005, the Securities Act 2005 and the Trust Act 2001 are the governing legislations for global businesses in Mauritius.
The Financial Services Commission of Mauritius issued its codes on the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing, which were subsequently revised and reissued in July 2005, to meet new national and international initiatives. The codes build upon the provisions of the Financial Intelligence and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2002, and set out the preventive measures that financial institutions, trusts and corporate service providers must put in place to counteract money laundering and terrorist financing. These codes also take into account the 40 recommendations and nine special recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force, and various other international standards.
Mauritius is progressively paving its way to establishing a solid investment fund industry in the offshore sector. The banking sector alone is worth over $1bn. About 90 percent of the active funds invest in Indian securities and shares, and more than half of the registered offshore funds are listed on international stock markets. South Africa, the US, India and non-resident Indians represent the major sources of offshore investment.
The Mauritian government took the initiative to amend key legislations, to bring them in line with international business expectations and compete across the markets:
• Offshore companies have been replaced by Category 1 Global Business Companies;
• The concept of ‘offshore trusts’ has also been abolished as a result of the repeal of the Offshore Trusts Act 1992 (now replaced by the Trust Act 2001), which has fused the law relating to domestic trusts and offshore trusts;
• The Banking Act 2004 allows offshore banks in Mauritius to conduct all types of banking business activities with non-residents of Mauritius;
• The Financial Services Act 2007 now provides for the legal framework governing the financial service sector.
World Finance recommends
Erriah Chambers is a law firm specialising in international tax law, international trusts law, international business law and all aspects of offshore business activities. The chambers was set up in response to the demand for Mauritius-based lawyers with international exposure and specialised expertise in the fields of international trusts, international finance, corporate and cross-border insolvency, tracing, and debts recovery.
Erriah Chambers consists of a team of seven barristers, led by managing partner Dev Erriah, and has associateship with many foreign law firms. Dev Erriah is listed as Band I and II individually in Chambers and Partners Global for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Erriah graduated in the UK and holds an LLM in international tax law, company law, and law of international finance and international trusts from the University of London. He undertook his pupillage with Philip Baker QC at Gray’s Inn Tax Chambers.
He was the first Chairman of STEP Mauritius (the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners), and is a member of the International Bar Association, part of Committee N (for tax) and Committee E (for banking).
More than 80 percent of the chambers’ practice involves advising international clients – including multinational enterprises, international law firms, the top 10 international accountancy firms, management companies, and domestic and international banks. The chambers is also involved in setting up various types of investment funds with very complex structures in jurisdictions in Africa and Asia, and undertakes international litigation such as international bankruptcy, enforcement of international creditors’ claims, money laundering and due diligence in Mauritius and at an international level.