02 Jun 2020
Quick to respond to the current restrictions, CIArb’s London Branch opted to host its May seminar on International Arbitration as its first live webinar. Recognising the need for answers, the branch gathered international speakers to consider the impact of Covid-19 on arbitration under the banner ‘What Now? What Next?’ Exceptionally the webinar was open to all, not just members. Unsurprisingly it was hugely popular, with 270 attending the lunchtime slot and taking part in the interactive polls.
The new Chair of the London Branch, Ben Giaretta C.Arb FCIArb, partner at Mishcon de Reya LLP, welcomed four speakers from across as many continents. Mrs Christine Artero FCIArb, an independent arbitrator in Singapore, Dr. Rémy Gerbay ACIArb, a partner at MoloLamken LLP in Washington DC, Dr. Mohamed Hafez, legal advisor to the director of the Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration and Mr Andrew Roberts, an investment manager with third party funder, Augusta Ventures, based in London. The event was moderated by Mr Jean-François Le Gal FCIArb, a partner at Pinsent Masons practising in London, Paris and the Middle East.
The speakers used the historical perspective of the 2008 financial crisis to consider a possible future, post coronavirus. A proliferation of disputes came in two waves following the collapse of the financial markets - those seeking to avoid the consequences of the crash, and subsequently, the recovery. Although the number of cases doubled, many ran out steam as the parties ran out of cash.
The current crisis differs in that its focus may be the allocation of risk and the concept of force majeure. Unlike 2008, third party funding is now more prevalent and may be used, even by those with liquidity, who would rather invest in their business than disputes. The perceived need for third party funding is such that some law firms are negotiating with the funders to obtain best rates for their clients. Some are even considering funding the disputes themselves. Either way, as the availability of funding is dependent upon the merits, the process may weed out unmeritorious claims.
The focus then turned to the future use of virtual hearings and whether in-person hearings would become a thing of the past. While most participants were comfortable with virtual hearings, there was a mixed response as to whether they would replace actual hearings. Instead the view was that virtual hearings were a useful tool for a number of business functions including CMCs and other hearings previously conducted by telephone. Participants were reminded of the role of the low tech, documents-only procedures. But ultimately all speakers recognised the considerable cost saving impact of virtual hearings, reducing costs to less than half those of an actual hearing. They also highlighted the need for tribunals to be IT literate, or to engage tribunal secretaries with IT skills.
The webinar concluded with a vote of thanks from Ben Giaretta who emphasised three ‘C’s – change, complexity and the need for communication.
Kim Franklin QC C.Arb FCIArb
Public Relations Officer, London Branch
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