Much Ado About Nothing or Something? Contemporary Issues Concerning Arbitrators in International Commercial Arbitration

Date01 September 2016
Published date01 September 2016
Subject MatterArticle
Steve K. Ngo*
The world of international arbitration has seen an unprecedented
growth. There are increasingly more new international arbitration
centres globally today, and countries around the globe are
competing to become the next international arbitration hub.
Existing arbitral institutions meanwhile continue to work on
building their status as the preferred centre for parties to resolve
their disputes. In this respect, the main actor in arbitrations
is always the arbitrator. No doubt lucrative fees and prestige
attached to the appointment as an arbitrator are luring many to this
‘vocation’, changing the landscape of arbitration practice rather
substantially today. But the success and growth of arbitration
also bring with it some problems. Among others, high costs of
arbitration, question over arbitrator’s professionalism and tness
to serve, are some of the common debates today. Is the conduct of
arbitrators today causing so many vexatious problems that it might
potentially bring the entire practice of international commercial
arbitration into disrepute? Or is it all just a storm in a teacup?
This article will examine and appraise some of the contemporary
issues associated with arbitrators, as well as discuss the possible
solutions to some of the pressing problem besetting international
commercial arbitration.
International arbitrator and arbitration consultant, Singapore. Among others, Honorary Professor
of Law, National Law University Delhi; part-time Professor, Guangxi University for Nationalities,
Nanning; Visiting Professor, KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneswar; Guest Professor, East China
University of Politics & Law, Shanghai, Adviser/Foreign Representative of Shanghai Arbitration
Court of International Shipping, Shanghai; Vice Chairman of KIIT Arbitration Centre, KIIT
University School of Law, Bhubaneswar. Email:
36 Journal of National Law University Delhi VOL 4(1)
I. Meteoric Rise of Arbitration
The 21st century is a celebration of arbitration unlike before. The use of
arbitration and caseloads has grown at an unprecedented scale and rate. This in
turn has also led to the massive development of practices and scholarships of
arbitration globally. Practitioners and new entrants are also entering the industry in
abundance, likewise the proliferation of seminars, training courses, publications and
postgraduate academic dissertations relating to arbitration. Global public awareness
of arbitration is likely to have increased due to many arbitration cases being reported.
Further professional understanding of arbitration is also thought to have improved
tremendously given that more business people are exposed to arbitration and the
use of it, in their increasingly cross-border nature of business transactions. With
the passing of an era,1 current generation of arbitrators and arbitration leaders are
taking charge and bringing it forward in this ever evolving, yet challenging world.
Yet, arbitration also presents opportunities and prosperity for its users and players.
In tracking the success and growth of arbitration, otherwise conducted in strict
condentiality between the parties and absolutely privy to them only, we now have
arbitral institutions and bodies from over the world to thank for their case statistics
reports. Increasingly, more governments are keen to promote their country as the
next arbitration hub of the region, and in seeing how attractive this status can be
which also brings vast economic benets. Not even traditionally non-commercial
arbitration body like the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) is spared from the
arbitration growth story, perhaps an unwilling party since it was established and
still operates today to serve some serious purposes, which include international
diplomacy. During the centenary celebration of the PCA in 2007, a prominent jurist,
Philippe Sands said:2
I rst came across the PCA in October 1980, during a lecture I
attended as an undergraduate student of law. Our lecturer was
Professor Jennings, in his last year at Cambridge before being
elected to serve as a Judge in another court that also occupies this
building. I must confess that I can’t remember the precise words
he used, but I do still have my lecture notes, which I got out of the
attic, and they refer in passing to this venerable institution. The
notes say: “Also PCA. Not much these days. Historical.”
Well, that was twenty-seven years ago, in the autumn of 1980. The
1 Tribute to some of the giants of arbitration; Ian Brownlie (1932-2010), Serge Lazare (1926-2012),
Howard M. Holtzmann (1921-2013), Pierre Lalive (1923-2014), Andreas Lowenfeld (1930-2014),
Michael Mustill (1931-2015), Sergei Lebedev (1934-2016) and Elihu Lauterpacht (1928-2017). We
hope we will make good as they have.
2 Remarks of Professor Philippe Sands, QC University College London and Matrix Chambers on the
occasion of a Celebration of the Centenary of the PCA The Hague, 18 October 2007ections-on-the-Current-Relevance-
of-the-PCA-Presentation-by-Professor-Philippe-Sands-QC.pdf accessed 10 April 2017.

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