Is it time for a new Code of Conduct for International Arbitration?

In today’s business environment corporate boards, their senior executives and general counsel cannot afford even to whisper the word settlement. Every dispute is fought and in a cross-border business world, arbitration is seen as the safest forum for resolving arguments. The UK is one of the – if not the – premier global venues for arbitration, due to the quality of its tribunals and litigators, translators and interpreters.

Moreover, recent figures from Price-waterhouseCoopers, show that multinational corporations have seen a 35 per cent rise in disputes in the past year and that nearly three quarters view international arbitration as an ideal forum for resolving these conflicts. “One of the key findings of the research is this trend in specialist counsel being brought in-house. In part, this is down to a cost-control measure but it will also serve as a real vote of confidence in [international arbitration] as these firms recognise the value in having arbitration specialists embedded more within their multinational businesses,” said Gerry Lagerberg, PwC’s head of international arbitration.

While the UK is a successful centre for resolving these conflicts we should not forget that other skills are required for their resolution. International litigants that choose London as the venue for resolving these disputes do not naturally converse in English. Similarly, their depositions and any other original documentation will not be in English. Indeed, there could be multiple variations of contractual documentation in many different languages.

As the outcome of a legal case may hinge upon the legal interpretation and meaning of a few words, it is crucial that lawyers and arbitrators are assisted and supported by a professional and competent body of interpreters and translators. Yet in order for any arbitration system to work effectively and efficiently one needs a uniform code of conduct.

Yet the incumbent International Bar Association code of practice for those hearing arbitrations and counsel appearing before them is viewed by some as a poor sticking plaster compared with some of the more robust, but ultimately stymied, proposals coming out of Europe.

For example, the newly released Paris Arbitration Rules set out an innovative mechanism for ad hoc arbitration. They provide greater discretion for arbitrators and their advisers in relation to the operability of interim relief yet with greater rigidity in relation to time limits.

At present, the UK generally prescribes to the International Bar Association code of conduct. Yet given the rise in competition from international arbitration centres – including Paris, Dubai and Singapore – London cannot afford to rest on its laurels. A new UK code of conduct for international arbitration disputes should be welcomed by litigators and interpreters alike.

Sources include: The Financial Times and Herbert Smith Freehills Arbitration Notes

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