The flexible, dynamic and continuously evolving nature of international arbitration has been severly tested throughout the past year. Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, the arbitral community has adopted novel solutions to respond to these changing demands and circumstances in a timely and efficient manner.
The School of International Arbitration, Queen Mary University of London, recently released its 2021 Survey Report in partnership with White & Case.1 The survey report constitutes the 12th edition of the empirical survey focusing on International Arbitration and was conducted in two phases. Phase 1 was undertaken through an online form, completed by over 1200 participants. Phase 2 is the product of interviews with over 198 participants spanning across 39 countries and 53 cities. This article outlines and critically assesses important facets of the report.
The winds of change: The new most preferred seats of arbitration
One of the most notable developments, according to the report’s findings, is the shift in the ranking of popular seats of arbitration. While London and Singapore share the top spot for the most popular seat of arbitration, Hong Kong is listed in second place.
The report notes that the significant percentage gains made by Singapore and Hong Kong, has affected the popularity of London, Paris and Geneva. In fact, for the first time in the survey’s history, Paris has been overtaken by the two non-European seats. While Geneva maintained its ranking at number four, there was a notable drop in the percentage of survey respondents choosing Geneva as their preferred seat for arbitration, causing it to fall from 26% in 2018 to 13% in 2021.2 Stockholm moved to ninth place even though it held the seventh spot in the survey’s 2018 edition. Beijing and Shanghai are the new additions to the list, ranking in seventh and eighth place respectively. Another new addition to the list is Dubai as the tenth most popular seat of arbitration.
It is worth mentioning that other popular seats such as Vienna, Zurich, Washington DC, Miami etc. were elected as the preferred forum for conducting arbitrations by 4% to 2% of survey respondents.
Similar Trend in Preferred Institutions
The report highlights that similar trends can be observed in relation to the respondents’ preferred arbitral institutions. While the ICC ranks highest, it is followed by the SIAC in second and the HKIAC in third place. Unlike in 2018, the LCIA is now ranked in fourth place ahead of the CIETAC as a new addition to the list. However, regionally, the most popular arbitral institutions for the European parties remain to be the ICC, LCIA and SIAC.
Gender Diversity in Arbitration
The majority of survey respondents have agreed that important progress has been made in the area of gender diversity in international arbitration. Despite the sustained efforts and considerable advancements made in terms of gender inclusiveness, diversity is a multifaceted, intersectional issue and there is a sustained need for improvement to address the underrepresentation of women serving as arbitrators or on arbitral tribunals. Beyond gender, the survey also raises concerns with regard to ethical barriers. To this end, the report ascribes an important role to appointing authorites and arbitration institutions in adopting express policies and frameworks for suggesting and appointing promising, skilled and capable arbitrator candidates to broaden the pool of and address the absence of cultural diversity amongst arbitrators.
The evolving priorities of arbitration users
The survey report is a reflection of the evolving world of international arbitration. Issues such as virtual hearings, increased reliance on technology as well as rising concerns regarding cybersecurity have been listed as some of the most pertinent interests and concerns of users for the very first time.
Once the pandemic recedes, repondents have expressed preference for hybrid hearings, i.e. a mix of in-person and virtual formats for almost all types of interactions, including meetings and conferences. While the virtual format is widely regarded as a popular alternative for procedural hearings, respondents consider in-person proceedings to be the norm particularly with regard to substantive hearings.
The survey serves two important functions. While it is reflective of the existing state of international arbitration, it also enables policymakers to reassess legislative strategies. The survey reflects a shift not least in terms of the preferred place, method and procedure for resolving cross-border disputes. This, in turn showcases the changing needs that parties, tribunals and arbitrators face in light of the rapidly evolving socio-economic conditions and circumstances.
Indeed, the survey is a comprehensive collection of data that not only provides insights into the present but also allows users to foresee the demands of the future.
1 2021 International Arbitration Survey: Adapting Arbitration to a Changing World http://www.arbitration.qmul.ac.uk/research/2021-international-arbitration-survey/
2 2018 International Arbitration Survey: The Evolution of International Arbitration http://www.arbitration.qmul.ac.uk/research/2018/
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