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14 May 2020

Trio of top arbitration bodies form international alliance to hear 'hybrid' Covid-19 compliant hearings

The International Arbitration Centre Alliance will have centres in Canada, London and Singapore

By Ben Rigby

View of Maxwell Chambers

Singapore's Maxwell Chambers; the alliance covers the key jurisdictions of Canada, London and Singapore huntergol hp; Shutterstock

Three leading arbitration bodies — Arbitration Place, the International Dispute Resolution Centre (IDRC) and Maxwell Chambers — have announced the formation of an alliance to facilitate international hearings that conform to Covid-19 restrictions.

The participants, which are based in Canada, London and Singapore, said the formation of the The International Arbitration Centre Alliance (IACA) was aimed at reducing the distance, time-zone and other challenges associated with planning and conducting international arbitration hearings and ADR proceedings.

Citing what they called “extraordinary times”, they said that remote working practices were “the ‘new normal’ that will be with us for some time”.

Canada-based Arbitration Place is that nation’s principal independent hearing centre and chambers of arbitrators, while the IDRC is one of London’s longest – and best recognised – arbitration hearing centres, having notched up two decades of ADR services in Fleet Street. 

Maxwell Chambers, meanwhile, is Singapore’s bespoke hearing centre for arbitrations, which underwent a major transformation in 2019, following a multi-million dollar refurbishment, and hosts many of the major arbitration institutions in Asia, including the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), which has posted record hearing statistics for 2019

The chief executive officers of the three founding centres, Damian Hickman of the IDRC, Katherine Yap of Maxwell Chambers and Kimberley Stewart of Arbitration Place, said: “The alliance breaks barriers and builds international bridges, providing the platform for our partners to connect globally, allowing a seamless and smooth dispute resolution experience.

“This is something the dispute resolution world desperately needs right now because of Covid-19 travel and assembly restrictions. We also firmly believe it’s the way of the future. International arbitration practitioners are becoming comfortable with virtual hearings. Longer term, even when global travel restrictions are eased, virtual will be used regularly to reduce travel time and cost.”

Key to the initial offering is the concept of global hybrid hearings, which combine physical hearings in a safe distanced environment and virtual hearings, in each case tailored to the locations and needs of the participants.

The aim is to allow stakeholders — parties, counsel, arbitrators, arbitral secretaries, witnesses, arbitral institutions, court reporters and translators — to participate fully and easily, no matter where in the world they are located. 

Commercial arbitrations could be serviced from socially distanced group hearings, via private technology suites with videoconferencing connections, or remotely, using a secure virtual platform. 

Investor-state arbitrations open to the public (in whole or in part) would be made accessible, addressing transparency issues.

Owen Lawrence, the CEO of the rival International Arbitration Centre (IAC), based at 190 Fleet Street, London, said: “As travel restrictions remain, virtual arbitrations are critical to keeping our industry moving. The ramifications of these hearings are essential in keeping global businesses moving.”

As BonelliErede lawyers Michela D'Avino and Bahaa Ezzelarab commented in April, all major arbitral institutions have offered remote hearing assistance. 

These include the largest bodies like the ICC’s International Court of Arbitration and the London Court of International Arbitration and national centres like SIAC. London barristers' chambers, including Serle Court and 39 Essex Chambers, have also been swift to offer their own services.

Arbitration centres including the IAC have followed suit with their own online facilities. 

The combination of three erstwhile rivals in the fiercely competitive arbitration space is unusual and positions them to gain market share in a depressed market thanks to their locations in the key markets of Asia, North American and London. 

Lawrence said his centre would react competitively, noting that, as with in-person hearings “any two arbitrations’ requirements are rarely the same. Therefore we provide a fully bespoke service”, which would “hold the hands of highly experienced arbitrators and walk them into this new world”.

For their part, the alliance partners said: “This innovative approach will enable the international dispute resolution industry to be prepared for whatever form the ‘new normal’ may take. It is also inherently ‘greener’ as its simplicity, ease of access, and time and cost efficiencies encourage less international travel.”

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