Dr Christopher To C.Arb FCIArb is an independent arbitrator, adjudicator and mediator who is on the panels of various leading global alternative dispute resolution bodies. He has arbitrated, adjudicated and mediated a variety of casesand is representing clients in cases within the dispute resolution field. He is an accredited mediator, chartered arbitrator, chartered engineer, chartered information technology professional, barrister-at-law and a law professor (adjunct).
Christopher is currently the Programme Director of the LLM in Arbitration and Dispute Resolution at the City University of Hong Kong and was the former Secretary-General of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre.
Why have you decided to specialise in alternative dispute resolution? Tell us about your legal journey to ADR.
I decided to specialise in arbitration, adjudication and mediation after being exposed to a major international dispute in which my employer at the time was preparing. Through this firsthand experience I was fascinated by how commercial disputes can be resolved in such a confidential, yet informal process. International enforceability through the New York Convention without doubt assists commercial parties in expediting the execution of the arbitral award.
As a result, I decided to embark on a Masters degree in Arbitration and Dispute Resolution at the City University of Hong Kong with the view of enhancing my knowledge in the area. The course was the only course in Asia at the time and those who taught me included Mr. Neil Kaplan, Dr. Michael Moser, Mr. Philip Yang, Mr. Robin Peard and Mr. David Sandborg to name a few. As my career developed I was fortunate to seat alongside these eminent arbitrators within Tribunals as well as appear in front of them advocating my client’s case. Their guidance and support to me throughout my ADR journey is without doubt valuable and for this I thank them deeply.
During my pupilage as a Barrister-at-law, Ms. Kim Rooney was one of my pupil masters and she whole heartily supported my journey and gave me an opportunity to be involved in one of the leading Chambers in Hong Kong that was at the time actively expanding its ADR practice. I would also like to thank her for such an opportunity and to this day, all I can say I have never looked back and I am always eager to go to work for new challenges.
What do you consider to be your biggest achievement in the field thus far?
My biggest achievement was to continue to enhance the status of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC) after following in the footsteps of Mr. Peter Caldwell as well as the creating of the Asian Domain Name Dispute Resolution for the resolution of top-level and country code domain name disputes. Although the job as Secretary-General was demanding and the resources available at the time were rather limited, nevertheless by aiming high and working hard, I was able with the assistance of my dedicated colleagues and the Council of the Centre to elevate the status of the HKIAC in par with other international centers’ in Europe and America. To this day, I am always proud of being associated with the HKIAC and have never regretted my decision to pursue a career in ADR.
In a recent achievement I was elected as Chairperson of the Hong Kong Institute of Directors (HKIOD), and was surprises when I was nominated as those who supported me, said I had the right temperament and had the foresight to take the institute to new heights. This was encouraging as my strive for good corporate governance and diversity over the years has paid off. I hope I can make the members of HKIOD proud.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge in your career?
My biggest challenge in my career was the move from a steady position within a major international airline where my career was planned and secured to the position as Secretary General at the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre. At first I was skeptical as arbitration at the time was relatively unknown to the local community and to move from a steady career to one that will take time to develop was relatively risky to say the least. I spoke to my parents and grandparents, as well as colleagues in the aviation industry and they all encouraged me to give it a go as I was young at the time and if things do not work out, I can always go back to the airline industry. Although I have moved on since being involved with the airline industry nevertheless I have kept in touch with my fellow colleagues and friends in the industry and we often meet and talk about the good old days and the challenges we encountered working under strict legislative guidelines and timeframes. Some of my aviation colleagues have used my services as mediator and I have assisted them in facilitating their commercial and personal disputes, which is gratifying.
How has a membership with the CIArb benefitted your career?
Membership of CIArb has opened doors for me through enhanced knowledge and the interaction with members across the globe. CIArb is without doubt the premier body that provides first class training in arbitration and ADR for those who would like to enhance their expertise in the area. The courses are taught by leading practitioners and give candidates a comprehensive understanding of how theory is applied into actual practice. The standards are high and those who embark and complete the various courses are proud of being associated with the institute as a member. Being a Chartered Arbitrator, I feel proud of myself as I have achieved the highest standard of the institute. In saying this, this has not stopped me from continuing my learning journey as learning is a continuous process, as I believe that no one can claim to know everything. CIArb is an institute that is evolving and if you treasure knowledge and want to get involved in the arbitration and ADR industry, then you definitely need to be a member of CIArb. Only by being involved would you come to realise the advantages and the opportunities it will bring to you.
Would you encourage a young legal professional to develop skills in the ADR field? What advice would you have for them?
Arbitration and ADR is growing and developing, I would encourage young practitioners to get involved and pursue qualifications and experience in arbitrations and ADR as one will not regret it, as it will open doors from an international perspective.
Tell us about your interests, hobbies or activities outside of work.
My passion is teaching and I am currently the Programme Director of the Masters in Arbitration and Dispute Resolution at City University of Hong Kong. I teach subjects ranging from international arbitration, mediation practice, construction law and dispute resolution in theory and practice. My ex-students have developed successful careers in the ADR industry and have kept in touch with me. I am proud of them and wish them every success in their careers ahead.
If you could meet for dinner a famous person, dead or alive, who would that be?
Queen Elizabeth II, as she is gracious and without doubt a caring and considerate person.