Ben Knowles: 'We pulled together a task force to see what could be done to help our clients resolve their disputes'
Leading arbitration institutions have joined forces to create an online resource — Virtual Arbitration — with the aim of sharing best practice on conducting web-based arbitrations using online technology.
The initiative is being led by Ben Knowles, Clyde & Co’s co-chair of international arbitration, and is funded by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, the London Court of International Arbitration and the International Dispute Resolution Centre.
The move echoes the launch of an international initiative in March led by leading legal futurologist Professor Richard Susskind to share know how on the use of remote working technology for court hearings.
Several leading arbitrators are supporting the project, including Ania Farren, of Omnia Strategy, Clifford Chance head of International arbitration Audley Sheppard, who chairs the LCIA’s board, and the International Arbitration Centre’s chief executive, Owen Lawrence.
Knowles said the project was a direct result of Covid-19 lockdown: “We pulled together a task force to see what could be done to help our clients resolve their disputes, at a time when physical hearings were becoming impossible to hold.”
He said there was a need to show that the arbitration community could act quickly and flexibly to respond to client needs and provide a ‘one-stop-shop’ for those looking for guidance across the legal, technical and behavioural aspects of running virtual hearings.
“The output of the taskforce was Virtual Arbitration. And this was all pulled together virtually, without a single physical meeting. The world has changed-and so has arbitration."
Jonathan Wood, chair of The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators’ (CIArb’s) board of trustees, said: “By sharing best practice through this forum, we aim to, not only, help mitigate the impact the pandemic is having on our ability to hold conventional arbitrations, but to pro-actively identify positive new ways of operating so that arbitration can emerge from the crisis stronger and more resilient than ever”.
Faced with perennial difficulties in arranging physical hearing schedules, the limited frequency by which high-value disputes are listed, and the fact that often one party to a dispute might feel it tactically appropriate to adjourn a hearing in such circumstances, the pandemic was a significant challenge to the viability of arbitration as a commercial alternative to litigation.
Lawrence noted that prior expertise in virtual hearings was comparatively limited. Everyone involved, he said, was “catapulted onto a steep learning curve and a new norm”.
He added: “In order for arbitration to continue, we wanted to provide a place for those with experience to share their knowledge, tips and even war stories we can all learn from them and move forwards collectively.”
New CIArb director-general Catherine Dixon, a former Law Society chief executive, praised the move, saying: “The resourcefulness of the arbitrators and other involved in resolving disputes without going to court, in adapting to the impact of the pandemic is impressive.”
The initiative follows the launch in April of the Campaign for Greener Arbitration by arbitrator Lucy Greenwood.
Last month, three leading arbitration bodies — Arbitration Place, the International Dispute Resolution Centre (IDRC) and Maxwell Chambers — forged an alliance to facilitate international hearings that conform to Covid-19 restrictions.