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The April meeting of the ICC Commission on Arbitration focused on an in-depth view of the current functioning of the ICC International Court of Arbitration and its Secretariat. Significant developments of the past year, including the opening of a branch in Hong Kong and the inauguration of the new ICC Hearing Centre in Paris, were also reviewed.
The one-day session in Paris on 22 April under the chairmanship of Peter Wolrich began with farewell remarks by ICC Secretary General Guy Sebban, who will be stepping down on 30 June. Mr Sebban gave an overview of his main accomplishments during his four-year tenure.
“We have been able to be recognized as an interlocutor of the G20 since the beginning,” Mr Sebban said in a reference to ICC’s lobbying efforts on behalf of global business prior to the G20 summits in Washington and London.
In his first appearance before the commission since becoming Chairman of the Court in January, John Beechey said the institution recognized that it was operating in a very competitive market for arbitration services. That, he said, was a challenge to which the Court was determined to rise.
“ICC cannot take its continued pre-eminence as an arbitral institution for granted,” Mr Beechey said.
Mr Beechey said the Court was doing all it could to streamline procedures and to improve efficiency ahead of the pending Rules revision process, whilst maintaining the high quality of service expected of the ICC Court. He said the support of the ICC Presidency and Executive Board in making the necessary capital investments to achieve those goals was greatly appreciated, as was that of members of the Court and commission who gave freely of their time and energy to promote the interests of ICC Arbitration.
Among the measures intended to be responsive to users’ demands for transparency, arbitrators would now be asked to give details of existing commitments likely to affect their availability to take on new cases.
So far as proposals by ICC national committees to the Court for arbitral appointments were concerned, users would need to be assured that those proposals were not based on inappropriate criteria, such as personal contacts with the appointing authority or the presence of an arbitrator in one particular geographic location as opposed to another in his or her country.
“The overriding priority is to ensure that we get the right man or woman to arbitrate in the right case,” Mr Beechey said.
In a separate report to the commission, ICC International Court of Arbitration Secretary General Jason Fry described the last year as challenging. “This year can be best described as a period of consolidation,” he told the commission.
Mr Fry highlighted ICC’s new Hearing Centre in Paris, which opened for business in October 2008. Available for hearings, whether ICC, ‘ad hoc’ or under the auspices of other arbitral institutions. the Hearing Centre, the first of its kind in Paris, was proving to be very successful.
Other major events included the launch of the online dispute resolution library and the worldwide launch of the Young Arbitrators’ Forum, which registered some 1,200 members in just eight months. In particular, the new Hong Kong office of the Court was up and running, with some 100 cases already registered.
The Court’s Secretary General emphasized the importance of the anticipated information technology system upgrade, which would allow the Secretariat to keep track in real time of the status of each case. “This is part of an entire review of our priorities and procedures internally and externally with a view to delivering a quality service,” Mr Fry said.
He noted that the upgrade was particularly important as the Court’s work load continues to increase at a fast pace. The number of cases registered jumped to 663 last year from 599 in 2007. In addition 407 awards were rendered in 2008, compared with 349 in 2007, while there were 1,317 cases pending compared with 1,285 at the end of the previous year.
The commission heard the views of users of international arbitration during a presentation by Andrew Clarke, General Counsel of Esso UK Limited.
In the afternoon, the commission members were updated on the progress of the work of the current task forces and a question and answer session with the Counsel at the Court’s Secretariat took place.
The meeting concluded with a cocktail at the new ICC Hearing Centre, during which commission members had the opportunity to visit the new facilities.
The next commission meeting will be held in Madrid on 4 October 2009.
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