During the past two decades, the explosive and continuous growth in cross-border trade and investments that began after World War II has jet-propelled the growth of international arbitration. Today, arbitration (whether ad hoc or institutional) is the universal first choice over transnational litigation for the resolution of cross-border business disputes.
Why parties choose arbitration for international disputes
During the same period, forests have been destroyed to print the thousands of papers, pamphlets, scholarly treatises and texts that have analysed every aspect of arbitration as a dispute resolution tool. The eight or 10 reasons usually given for why arbitration is the best way to resolve cross-border disputes have remained pretty constant, but their comparative rankings have changed somewhat. At present, two reasons probably outweigh all others.
The first must be the widespread disinclination of those doing business internationally to entrust the resolution of prospective disputes to the national court systems of their foreign counterparties. This unwillingness to trust foreign courts (whether based on knowledge or simply uncertainty as to whether the counterparty’s court system is worthy – i.e., efficient, experienced and impartial) leaves international arbitration as the only realistic alternative, assuming the parties have equal bargaining power.
The second is that, unlike court judgments, arbitral awards benefit from a series of international treaties that provide robust and effective means of enforcement. Unquestionably, the most important of these is the 1958 New York Convention, which enables the straightforward enforcement of arbitral awards in approximately 160 countries. When enforcement against a sovereign state is at issue, the ICSID Convention of 1966 requires that ICSID awards are to be treated as final judgments of the courts of the relevant contracting state, of which there are currently 161.
Awards used to be honoured
A decade ago, international corporate counsel who responded to the 2008 Queen Mary/PricewaterhouseCoopers Survey on Corporate Attitudes and Practices in Relation to Investment Arbitration (the 2008 Queen Mary Survey) reported positive outcomes on the use of international arbitration to resolve disputes. A very high percentage (84 per cent) indicated that, in more than 76 per cent of arbitration proceedings, the non-prevailing party voluntarily complied with the arbitral award. Where enforcement was required, 57 per cent said that it took less than a year for awards to be recognised and enforced, 44 per cent received the full value of the award and 84 per cent received more than three-quarters of the award. Of those who experienced problems in enforcement, most described them as complications rather than insurmountable difficulties. The survey results amounted to a stunning endorsement of international arbitration for the resolution of cross-border disputes.
Is the situation changing?
As an arbitrator, my job is done with the delivery of a timely and enforceable award. When the award is issued, my attention invariably turns to other cases, rather than to whether the award produces results. The question of enforcing the award (or challenging it) is for others. This has meant that, until relatively recently, I have not given much thought to whether the recipient of an award would be as sanguine today about its enforceability and payment as those who responded to the 2008 Queen Mary Survey.
My interest in the question of whether international business disputes are still being resolved effectively by the delivery of an award perked up a few years ago. This was a result of the frequency of media reports – pretty well daily - of awards being challenged (either on appeal or by applications to vacate) and of prevailing parties being required to bring enforcement proceedings (often in multiple jurisdictions).
Increasing press reports of awards under attack
During 2018, Global Arbitration Review’s daily news reports contained literally hundreds of headlines that suggest that a repeat of the 2008 Queen Mary Survey today could well lead to a significantly different view as to the state of voluntary compliance with awards or the need to seek enforcement.
A sprinkling of last year’s headlines on the subject are illustrative:
- ‘Well known’ arbitrator sees award set aside in London
- Gazprom challenges gas pricing award in Sweden
- ICC award set aside in Paris in Russia–Ukrainian dispute
- Yukos bankruptcy denied recognition in the Netherlands
- Award against Zimbabwe upheld after eight years
- Malaysia to challenge multibillion-dollar 1MBD settlement
- Uzbekistan escapes Swiss enforcement bid
- India wins leave to challenge award on home turf
Regrettably, no source of reliable data is available as yet to test the question of whether challenges to awards are on the increase or the ease of enforcement has changed materially since 2008. However, given the importance of the subject (without effective enforcement, there really is no effective resolution) and my anecdote-based perception of increasing concerns, last summer I raised the possibility of doing a book on the subject with David Samuels (Global Arbitration Review ’s publisher). Ultimately, we became convinced that a practical, ‘know-how’ text that covered both sides of the coin – challenges and enforcement – would be a useful addition to the bookshelves of those who more frequently than in the past may have to deal with challenges to, and enforcement of, international arbitration awards. Being well equipped (and up to date) on how to deal with a client’s post-award options is essential for counsel in today’s increasingly disputatious environment.
David and I were obviously delighted when Emmanuel Gaillard and Gordon Kaiser agreed to become partners in the project.
As editors, we have not approached our work with a particular view on whether parties are currently making inappropriate use of mechanisms to challenge or resist the enforcement of awards. Any consideration of that question should be made against an understanding that not every tribunal delivers a flawless award. As Pierre Lalive said in a report 35 years ago:
an arbitral award is not always worthy of being respected and enforced; in consequence, appeals against awards [where permitted] or the refusal of enforcement can, in certain cases, be justified both in the general interest and in that of a better quality of arbitration.
Nevertheless, the 2008 Queen Mary Survey, and the statistics kept by a number of the leading arbitral institutions, suggest that the great majority of awards come to conclusions that should normally be upheld and enforced.
Structure of the guide
This guide is structured to include, in Part I, coverage of general matters that will always need to be considered by parties, wherever situated, when faced with the need to enforce or to challenge an award. In this first edition, the 13 chapters in Part I deal with subjects that include (1) initial strategic considerations in relation to prospective proceedings, (2) how best to achieve an enforceable award, (3) challenges generally, (4) a variety of specific types of challenges, (5) enforcement generally, (6) the enforcement of interim measures, (7) how to prevent asset stripping, (8) grounds to refuse enforcement, and (9) the special case of ICSID awards.
Part II of the book is designed to provide answers to more specific questions that practitioners will need to consider when reaching decisions concerning the use (or avoidance) of a particular national jurisdiction – whether this concerns the choice of that jurisdiction as a seat of an arbitration, as a physical venue for the hearing, as a place for enforcement, or as a place in which to challenge an award. This first edition includes reports on 29 national jurisdictions. The author, or authors, of each chapter have been asked to address the same 35 questions. All relate to essential, practical information on the local approach and requirements relating to challenging or seeking to enforce awards in each jurisdiction. Obviously, the answers to a common set of questions will provide readers with a straightforward way in which to assess the comparative advantages and disadvantages of competing jurisdictions.
Through this approach, we have tried to produce a coherent and comprehensive coverage of many of the most obvious, recurring or new issues that are now faced by parties who find that they will need to take steps to enforce these awards or, conversely, find themselves with an award that ought not to have been made and should not be enforced.
Quality control and future editions
Having taken on the task, my aim as general editor has been to achieve a substantive quality consistent with The Guide to Challenging and Enforcing Arbitration Awards being seen as an essential desktop reference work in our field. To ensure content of high quality, I agreed to go forward only if we could attract as contributors, colleagues who were some of the internationally recognised leaders in the field. Emmanuel, Gordon and I feel blessed to have been able to enlist the support of such an extraordinarily capable list of contributors.
In future editions, we hope to fill in important omissions. In Part I, these could include chapters on successful cross-border asset tracing, the new role played by funders at the enforcement stage, and the special skill sets required by successful enforcement counsel. In Part II, we plan to expand the geographical reach with chapters on China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Venezuela.
Without the tireless efforts of the Global Arbitration Review team at Law Business Research, this work never would have been completed within the very tight schedule we allowed ourselves; David Samuels and I are greatly indebted to them. Finally, I am enormously grateful to Doris Hutton Smith (my long-suffering PA), who has managed endless correspondence with our contributors with skill, grace and patience.
I hope that all my friends and colleagues who have helped with this project have saved us from error – but it is I alone who should be charged with the responsibility for such errors as may appear.
Although it should go without saying, this first edition of this publication will obviously benefit from the thoughts and suggestions of our readers on how we might be able to improve the next edition, for which we will be extremely grateful.
J William Rowley QC