ECUADOR IS NOW OFFICIALLY A CONTRACTING STATE OF THE ICSID CONVENTION

On June 30, 2021, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court (Constitutional Court) held that President Guillermo Lasso had the power to ratify the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention) without the approval of Ecuador’s National Assembly (the Decision).[1] The Constitutional Court also held that the ratification of the ICSID Convention does not imply that Ecuador has assigned inherent domestic powers to international jurisdiction nor that the ratification of the treaty automatically binds Ecuador to investor-state arbitration.

Following the Decision, on July 16, 2021, President Lasso ratified the ICSID Convention and on August 4, 2021, deposited Ecuador’s Instrument of Ratification with the World Bank. Pursuant to Article 68(2) of the ICSID Convention, it will enter into force today, September 3, 2021.

In response to Ecuador’s latest ratification of the ICSID Convention and the Decision, Ecuador’s legislative branch, the National Assembly, voted on a resolution which (i) opposed the ratification of the ICSID Convention and the Decision, and (ii) supported the launching of a constitutional action seeking a declaration from the Constitutional Court that the ICSID Convention is unconstitutional.[2] As a result, at least three actions have been filed by members of the National Assembly during August 2021.[3] A decision from the Constitutional Court is pending. Continue reading

ICSID RELEASES REVISED PROPOSED MEDIATION RULES

On 15 June 2021, the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes released its latest working paper as part of its Rules Amendment Project. In addition to proposing changes to the ICSID Convention and ICSID Additional Facility arbitration and conciliation, as covered in our earlier blog post, Working Paper 5 also refines the proposed new rules for ICSID fact-finding and mediation. The changes to the Mediation Rules between Working Paper 4 and Working Paper 5 have been minimal, and the ICSID Secretariat has expressed a hope that this will be the final iteration of the rules.

To further promote mediation in investor-State arbitration, in July 2021 ICSID also released a Background Paper on Investment Mediation, which provides an overview of mediation in an investor-State context, as well as an Overview of Investment Treaty Clauses on Mediation, which reviews existing treaty mechanisms that address investor-state mediation and other amicable dispute resolution mechanisms.

This blog post provides an overview of how a mediation would be initiated, conducted, and concluded under the proposed Mediation Rules – highlighting any key changes in the latest iteration of the rules and flagging key takeaways from ICSID’s additional publications.

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Federal Court of Australia clarifies recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards

In a unanimous decision (accessible here), the Full Federal Court of Australia has allowed (on a limited basis as explained below) an appeal by the Kingdom of Spain of the Federal Court decision in Eiser Infrastructure Limited v Kingdom of Spain [2020] FCA 157 (Eiser). The decision at first instance had allowed the recognition and enforcement of two awards issued in investor-state arbitrations conducted under the rules of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) (ICSID case numbers ARB/13/31 and ARB/13/36).1

The Full Court’s decision clarifies the difference between recognition of an award and its enforcement,2 and the implication of both on whether foreign states (such as the Kingdom of Spain) are immune from ICSID awards in Australia.

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ICSID RELEASES STATISTICS FOR RECORD YEAR 2020

The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (“ICSID”) has released case statistics for 2020 (available here) showing a record number of new cases. While the figures confirm that the Covid-19 pandemic has not so far significantly affected the nature of those disputes, other changes – such as a shift to virtual hearings – are likely to affect investment arbitration in 2021 and beyond.

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COEXISTING WITH COVID-19 [2]: A CATALYST FOR PROGRESS IN INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION?

This blog post was originally published on 16 July 2020. This version of the post has been amended to include an updated table of the individual steps taken by different arbitral institutions and organisations as at 02 October 2020 in response to the evolving situation. 

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, infection rates in many countries are starting to fall, and businesses and governments alike are seeking to establish a “new normal” recognising that the virus will be present in society for some time yet. Other countries still face climbing numbers and a peak yet to come. For all, the prospect of multiple waves of high infection rates throughout the year and beyond remains. As such, we will continue to see an ever shifting patchwork of lockdowns and other government responses internationally.

In our earlier series of blog posts, we highlighted the individual steps taken by different arbitral institutions, organisations and the wider community as an initial crisis response to the pandemic. We produced a table setting out those steps and will continue to monitor and update this information going forward. An updated table, accurate to 02 October 2020, can be found here.

In this blog post, we turn to the future and look at how the arbitration community continues to respond to the challenges of operating internationally, as different countries prepare in different ways to live with the Covid-19 virus in the medium term at least.

A steep learning curve: the initial response

The initial wave of the pandemic created an unprecedented need for arbitral institutions and organisations to adapt at very short notice to new and different ways of working, and offer solutions to parties and practitioners that would enable disputes to continue to be resolved at a time of quarantine, enforced social distancing and fast-changing government guidance from across the globe. What became clear was that there was no “one size fits all” approach to be taken by those institutions or organisations. Some institutions (such as the SCC) already functioned largely online with online filing systems. For other organisations (such as the LMAA) the majority of their cases were resolved “on the papers” rather than in face-to-face hearings. Other institutions (such as the ICC or LCIA) needed to introduce changes in their processes, enabling cases to be filed virtually while their secretariats worked remotely and for parties and tribunals to communicate online.

As the truly global nature of the pandemic unfolded, one of the first questions faced by parties, arbitrators and practitioners was whether merits hearings ought to be held virtually or postponed. While electronic communication and the use of other online tools in an arbitration is nothing new, most arbitrations, until now, involved a face-to-face substantive hearing on the merits. For many, a shift to a fully virtual merits hearing was, at least initially, viewed as a step too far. We saw many arbitration hearings in March and early April being postponed to later in the year. However, with the realisation that this “new normal” might be with us on a global scale for some time came a change in attitude towards virtual hearings.

The institutional joint statement in April 2020 mirrored the approach of many national courts in encouraging parties to continue with the resolution of disputes, and many arbitral institutions began encouraging arbitrators to adopt virtual hearings wherever possible. As a consequence, many parties with upcoming merits hearings found their arbitrators inclined towards that option.

Where a decision has been taken to hold a hearing virtually, the arbitrators, practitioners and clients involved have been on a steep learning curve. Just as we have all become used to operating through Skype, Teams and Zoom in the workplace, we have adapted to using that same virtual technology (and others) to hold hearings.

There has been a very positive response from a number of practitioners who have participated in virtual hearings, with many surprised at how well they have worked. We have seen the development of guidelines, protocols and procedural orders to govern the efficient and effective running of virtual hearings and to ensure that the hearing remains fair to all.

We have also seen other new ideas and initiatives come from within the community during this challenging time. New websites and initiatives have been launched to help keep practitioners up to date with Covid-19 developments or to facilitate the use of online platforms to enable cases to truly operate virtually.

Responding to an ever-shifting international picture: the need for flexibility

So what does the “new normal” mean going forward?

Commercial arbitration has grown in popularity over the past decades as parties recognise the benefits it brings in cross-border transactions by offering a neutral forum and an adaptable, international, procedure. But the international nature of the parties, practitioners, institutions and arbitrators also means that arbitration must be able to adapt and flex to fit the unique requirements of those international participants, both in terms of their transactions and disputes, but also to the specific implications of the pandemic for each country in which those participants reside.

Clearly, if circumstances require it, all those involved in the process should be able to revert back to “lockdown” ways of working. And if circumstances require it, all the learning of the past months will be able to be put into use in continuing to hold wholly virtual substantive hearings. But what seems more likely is that we will see more flexible and adaptable approaches to respond quickly to the immediate, and often changing, circumstances.

“Hybrid” or “semi-virtual” hearings are likely to be the answer to that need for flexibility. A mixture of virtual and physical attendance will help to mitigate the effects of travel restrictions and local or national lockdowns. They will also enable those involved in hearings (such as the parties and their counsel, the Tribunal and any witnesses or translators that might be involved) to participate to the fullest extent possible. Some participants may meet in a single or in multiple locations, with appropriate social distancing, while others attend virtually. These hybrid hearings can be set up to change format at short notice, enabling those involved to plan for a myriad of different scenarios but ensure that the final hearing remains fair, offering each party the opportunity to put their case.

Impact on the future: a catalyst for change in the post-Covid world?

Many sectors of the economy have proven themselves to be extremely adaptable in the face of the pandemic, and arbitration is no different in that regard. At this stage, however, it is difficult to gauge the longer term impact of Covid-19 on the process and procedure of arbitration globally, particularly if a future vaccine were to reduce or remove the need for social distancing.

However, the longer arbitral participants are required to work in a different way, the more those new ways of working will be seen as the norm. The more positive experiences participants have of virtual or hybrid hearings, the more likely it is that these will remain at least options for future merits hearings. When faced with participants from across the globe, parties may become less comfortable with the expense of holding a face-to-face hearing if they are reassured in the effectiveness of a virtual or hybrid option. Indeed, the dramatic reduction in the carbon footprint of these virtual and hybrid hearings may lead to an environmental “silver-lining” to the pandemic in terms of changes in business practice for many, including in international arbitration.

Most importantly, we have seen innovation and blue sky thinking at its best in the last few months. And that shift in mind-set towards different ways of delivering the product of arbitration effectively and efficiently has been exciting to see and experience. That ability to adapt and change to challenging circumstances is likely to continue, and we will see the longer term impact of that innovation for many years to come.

For more information, please contact Craig Tevendale, Partner, Vanessa Naish, Professional Support Consultant, Charlie Morgan, Senior Associate, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills Contact.

Craig Tevendale
Craig Tevendale
Partner
+44 20 7466 2445

Vanessa Naish
Vanessa Naish
Professional Support Consultant
+44 20 7466 2112

Charlie Morgan
Charlie Morgan
Senior Associate
+44 20 7466 3868

COEXISTING WITH COVID-19: A CATALYST FOR PROGRESS IN INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION?

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, infection rates in many countries are starting to fall, and businesses and governments alike are seeking to establish a “new normal” recognising that the virus will be present in society for some time yet. Other countries still face climbing numbers and a peak yet to come. For all, the prospect of multiple waves of high infection rates throughout the year and beyond remains. As such, we will continue to see an ever shifting patchwork of lockdowns and other government responses internationally.

In our earlier series of blog posts, we highlighted the individual steps taken by different arbitral institutions, organisations and the wider community as an initial crisis response to the pandemic. We produced a table setting out those steps and will continue to monitor and update this information going forward. An updated table, accurate to 16 July 2020, can be found here.

In this blog post, we turn to the future and look at how the arbitration community continues to respond to the challenges of operating internationally, as different countries prepare in different ways to live with the Covid-19 virus in the medium term at least.

Continue reading

UPDATE [8]: “NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION”: COVID-19 DRAMATICALLY ACCELERATES DIGITALISATION OF ARBITRATION PROCESSES

This eighth (and final) update to a blog post initially dated 7 April 2020 takes into account developments between 25 June – 9 July 2020. These include various institutional changes (set out in the table attached to the blog), as well as perspectives on the development of “hybrid hearings” as some venues start to reopen in light of changing conditions and the easing of government restrictions. This updated blog post also includes the news of the launching of the “Protocol for Online Case Management in International Arbitration” for public consultation (produced by a working group led by Herbert Smith Freehills LLP) and VIAC’s recently announced Vienna Protocol – “A Practical Checklist for Remote Hearings”.

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UPDATE [7]: “NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION”: COVID-19 DRAMATICALLY ACCELERATES DIGITALISATION OF ARBITRATION PROCESSES

This seventh update to a blog post initially dated 7 April 2020 has been updated to take into account developments between 12 June – 25 June 2020. These include various institutional changes (set out in the table attached to the blog) as some venues start to reopen in light of changing conditions and the easing of government restrictions, as well as details of the collaboration between the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) and the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) to offer a low cost online service to businesses affected by COVID-19.

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UPDATE [6]: “NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION”: COVID-19 DRAMATICALLY ACCELERATES DIGITALISATION OF ARBITRATION PROCESSES

This sixth update to a blog post initially dated 7 April 2020 has been updated to take into account developments between 28 May – 11 June 2020. These include various institutional changes (set out in the table attached to the blog) as some venues start to reopen in light of changing conditions and the easing of government restrictions, as well as details on the newly announced “Virtual Arbitration Forum”.

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UPDATE [5]: “NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION”: COVID-19 DRAMATICALLY ACCELERATES DIGITALISATION OF ARBITRATION PROCESSES

This fifth update to a blog post initially dated 7 April 2020 has been updated to take into account developments between 14 May – 28 May 2020. These include various institutional changes (set out in the table attached to the blog) as some venues start to reopen in light of changing conditions and the easing of government restrictions, as well as details on new guidance that has been issued by HKIAC on virtual hearings and the SCC on the SCC Platform.

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