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Charles Russell Speechlys hosts international arbitration event in Dubai

On 29 February 2024 Charles Russell Speechlys hosted an event considering global trends in leading arbitral seats.

Senior dispute practitioners from CRS were joined by inhouse counsel Faris Nasrallah (Senior Arbitration Counsel at Crescent Petroleum) and Liesje Korff (Senior Counsel at Standard Chartered Bank) to share insights on developments in international arbitration in London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris, Zurich and Dubai. The event took places at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai. 

Following opening remarks by Patrick Gearon, partner and head of Middle East, the first panel discussed arbitration in Europe, chaired by Thanos Karvelis, partner in Dubai. 

  • Liesje Korff kicked the debate off with an explanation of the importance of looking at the bigger picture when deciding whether to arbitrate or litigate, which includes the various commercial pulls of the transaction, the value and counterparties involved.  She also mooted the need for all parties to collaborate when negotiating, and to be pragmatic when making decisions as to the shape of an arbitration clause.  Lastly, she expressed the inhouse lawyer’s attitudes to arbitration, voicing concerns about its expense when compared with litigation and emphasising the need for companies to choose their dispute resolution mechanisms wisely.
  • Richard Kiddell, partner in London, gave a run-down of developments in England and Wales, which remains a global leader for arbitration and a preferred seat. Richard explained the recent reform of the 1996 Arbitration Act, with amendments intended to update the Act to reflect contemporary arbitral practice. 
  • Simon Le Wita, partner in Paris, explained recent high-profile French cases that had established the “radioactive” nature of arbitration agreements such that they can easily extend across contracts, with implied consent to arbitrate not vitiated save by express agreement to the contrary. He emphasised the need to maintain procedural and substantive objections across arbitration and court hearings. 
  • Benoit Pasquier, partner in Zurich, explained Switzerland is a global hub for sports arbitration given the presence of not only the Court of Arbitration for Sport but also the headquarters of FIFA and the International Olympic Committee. He is an arbitrator on CAS’ two dispute resolution tracks: the ordinary dispute process, covering commercial disputes like those relating to sponsorship contracts; and the disciplinary process. 

The second panel, moderated by Peter Smith, considered arbitration in the Middle East and Asia.

  • Stephen Chan, partner in Hong Kong, began by explaining how interim measures including freezing orders made under Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (“HKIAC”) rules could be directly enforced in mainland China. Third party funding was growing amongst parties to Hong Kong arbitrations following its introduction in early 2019; at the end of 2022, a new regime permitting outcome-related fee structures in arbitration came into force, allowing conditional fee, damages-based and hybrid damages-based agreements, all of which were welcomed by arbitration users in the territory. He also covered potential changes to HKIAC’s  rules in a consultation published in January 2024. 
  • Thomas Snider, partner in Dubai and member of the Court of Arbitration at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (“SIAC”), discussed SIAC’s ongoing rules revision process and the proposed rule changes in its consultation draft. The proposed changes under consideration include a new streamlined 3-month arbitration procedure; having the parties nominate their respective arbitrators simultaneously rather than sequentially; and a power for SIAC to avoid unequal treatment of parties potentially affecting the enforceability of awards. 
  • Thomas is also a member of the Board of Directors at the Dubai International Arbitration Centre, whose relaunch following Dubai Decree 34 of 2021 was discussed by the panel, as well as the UAE’s newest arbitration centre, arbitrateAD, and recent developments next door in Saudi Arabia with the Saudi Centre for Commercial Arbitration.
  • Faris Nasrallah explained why, in his eyes, arbitration is the pre-eminent dispute resolution mechanism of choice in the Arab world, with a long and esteemed history. He noted that harmonisation across the UAE arbitration landscape was a clear and predictable trend, whether between courts, institutions, or in normative practices such as reliance on UAE court judgments in arbitration. In tandem with its substantial economic growth, Saudi Arabia had increased its investment in dispute resolution processes and particularly arbitration; the consequential peer competition between Saudi Arabia and places like Dubai was positive for everyone. 

In his closing remarks, Thomas Snider suggested there were “7 Cs” to consider when considering which arbitral seat to choose: membership of the New York Convention; clarity in arbitration law; arbitration-friendly courts; good centres for the administration of arbitration; a legal community with a culture of arbitration; connectivity in transport and information technology; and creativity in adapting to changes in the field. As the discussion had shown, England, France, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong, and the UAE all met this criteria.

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