UNCITRAL Adopts Expedited Arbitration Rules

By Mylene Chan

This is the third part of a series of CPR Speaks posts reporting on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s 54th session where the commission adopted legislative and non-legislative texts relating to alternative dispute resolution. 

At the three-week session concluding July 16, the commission adopted the UNCITRAL Expedited Arbitration Rules and the Explanatory Notes to the UNCITRAL Expedited Rules. These rules and notes complement and are intended to be read together with UNCITRAL’s well-known arbitration rules, which are for resolving international disputes and applicable both in administered arbitrations under the auspices of an arbitral institution, as well as in ad hoc arbitrations.

The UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules were originally developed as an alternative to other major rule systems. UNCITRAL’s innovative rules were initially viewed with skepticism, but over time, they have been frequently used in investment arbitrations, commercial arbitrations, arbitrations between states, and between states and individuals, such as for the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunals and several bilateral investment treaties. Latham & Watkins Guide to International Arbitration (2019) (available at https://bit.ly/2VeZKU8).

The UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules have gone through three versions, in 1976, 2010 (revised to meet the needs of modern business including improvements to procedural efficiency, inclusion of provisions on multi-party arbitration and the development of rules on interim measures; available at https://bit.ly/3i7UrPq), and 2013 (incorporated rules on transparency for investment arbitrations based on treaties; available at https://bit.ly/2UZMEKH). See general background on the rules from UNCITRAL at https://bit.ly/3l6RyjD.

In 2018, UNCITRAL mandated Working Group II to explore ways to improve the efficiency of the arbitral proceedings through streamlining and simplifying procedures, resulting in the drafting of the UNCITRAL Expedited Arbitration Rules. The goal is to reach a final dispute resolution in a cost- and time-effective manner while ensuring due process and fair treatment for the disputants. (See https://undocs.org/en/A/CN.9/934 for the 2018 statement on expedited rules.)

For coverage of the early drafting process of the UNCITRAL Expedited Arbitration Rules, see Piotr Wójtowicz & Franco Gevaerd, “How UNCITRAL’s Working Group II on Arbitration Is Analyzing the Field to Help Expedited Processes” 37 Alternatives 90 (June 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/377Nfwg), and Piotr Wójtowicz & Franco Gevaerd,  “The Framework: The U.N.’s Working Group II Debates New Expedited Arbitration Rules,” 37 Alternatives 99 (July/August 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/3l5OLqS).

Special features in the UNCITRAL expedited arbitration rules include the following:

  • Disputes under the expedited procedures shall be settled in accordance with the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules as modified by the expedited rules.
  • The expedited rules shall apply only with express consent by the disputants.
  • To facilitate speedy constitution of the tribunal, the claimant must include, with its notice of arbitration, the proposal of an appointment authority and the arbitrator. The notice of arbitration constitutes the claimant’s statement of claim. The respondent then has 15 days to file a response to the notice of arbitration. By contrast, under UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules, the time to respond is 30 days from the receipt of the notice of arbitration.
  • When the disputants cannot agree on an appointing authority, any disputant can request that the Permanent Court of Arbitration Secretary-General designate the appointing authority or serve as appointing authority. The PCA Secretary-General has discretion to decline serving as appointing authority and designate another authority if it deems it more appropriate. In this way, the UNCITRAL Expedited Rules have deviated from the default two-step designation/appointment procedure found in the non-expedited UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules.
  • The tribunal has discretion in shaping the proceedings, including extending or abridging timeframes (except for award issuance, as discussed in the bullet below) and determining whether hearings will be held or evidence taken.  This discretion represents an expansion of the discretion contained in the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules.
  • The time period for rendering the award employs a bifurcated approach. If the tribunal considers that it is at risk of not rendering an award within nine months, it shall propose a final extended time limit. If all disputants agree, the extension is considered adopted.  If a party objects to the extension, however, any party may make a request that the UNCITRAL Expedited Rules no longer apply to the arbitration. After hearing the disputants, the tribunal may then decide that it will instead conduct the proceedings in accordance with the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules, which do not contain the time limits.

The most contentious issue was the last bullet point above regarding the time period for rendering the award. Working Group II spent more than six hours debating on this point during the 54th session, focusing on how to balance the policy interest of promoting a truly expedited process with the goal of ensuring that the result of that process would be enforceable through the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, better known as the New York Convention.

At one point, the U.S. delegation objected vehemently that “[u]sing this approach, as the default in the rules, creates a very concerning precedent for an uncontrolled instrument in our delegation’s experience.  . . . That is why we have drafted the compromise language that . . . seeks to bridge the gap between delegations like ours, who are very concerned about adopting a system that will likely produce unknowable awards, and those delegations who primarily are concerned that without a hard stop at nine months, the rules will enable arbitrators who were not very diligent, or who simply procrastinated to continue to take extensions.”

There were more concerns about protecting those with lesser means and bargaining power:

  • The U.S. delegation noted, “We think that given that these rules may be used by unsophisticated parties because they are expedited, . . . one of the goals is to reach out to parties who might be otherwise deterred from pursuing arbitration because of the cost.  . . .”
  • The Israel delegation point out that “[t]here could be concerns of parties with weaker bargaining powers that would have to be essentially compelled to agree to this.  . . .”

While the debate was heated, ultimately the member states drafted an innovative approach to reach a consensus. 

The UNCITRAL Expedited Arbitration Rules will appear together with the explanatory notes toward the end of the year as an appendix to the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules.  In the fall, Working Group II will deliberate on rules about early dismissal of frivolous claims that will require modifications to the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. Working Group II will post the final rules, and currently has the drafts, here.

In addition, UNCITRAL is contemplating developing a new framework for adjudication. commonly known as dispute resolution boards, to complement the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. There has been a recurring expression of interest within UNCITRAL member states in the principle of rapid decision common to adjudication in construction projects. The U.S. delegation noted that it hoped that this principle can be adapted to expedite the resolution of disputes in other long-term contracts, or at least to mitigate the impact of those disputes.

UNCITRAL expects to conduct colloquiums to discuss adjudication next spring. With the adoption of the expedited rules, UNCITRAL is taking steps to expand the use of arbitration as a method of dispute resolution available to a wider range of parties.

Thomas W. Walsh, special counsel based in the New York office of Freshfields, who in his arbitration work focuses on UNCITRAL matters and worked on an early draft of the UNCITRAL Expedited Rules, said that the rules “are a welcome example of the arbitration community responding to the needs of the businesses that use arbitration. If parties have a commercial need to expedite the resolution of their dispute, the rules offer a thoughtful, ready-made procedure that they can select to meet that commercial need.”

The UNCITRAL Expedited Rules eliminate many of the obstacles that made arbitration costly and overly time-consuming, and the role of UNCITRAL as a global trend-setter on arbitration means that these new provisions are likely to be used as models worldwide.

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The author, an LLM candidate at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, has covered UNCITRAL’s 54th Session proceedings for CPR Speaks as a 2021 CPR Summer Intern. Her articles can be found using the search box on the upper right of this page.

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CPR Delegation Participates in the 69th Session of the UNCITRAL Working Group II on Expedited Arbitration

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In the picture (from left to right): Franco Gevaerd, Olivier P. André, and Piotr S. Wójtowicz.

By Franco Gevaerd

From Feb. 4-8, 2019, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law Working Group II held its 69th session at the United Nations headquarters in New York. At this session, as set forth by the UNCITRAL during its 51st session, Working Group II commenced its deliberations on issues relating to expedited arbitration (see the Report of the UNCITRAL on the 51st session).

Given the CPR Institute’s international experience and expertise in international arbitration, the UNCITRAL Secretariat invited CPR to participate in the session as an observer delegation representing its views on expedited arbitration to facilitate Working Group II’s deliberations.

CPR sent a five-member delegation: Noah J. Hanft, President & CEO; Olivier P. André, Senior Vice President, International; Anna M. Hershenberg, Vice President, Programs and Public Policy & Corporate Counsel; Franco Gevaerd, International Consultant/Legal Intern; and Piotr S. Wójtowicz, Legal Intern.

Established in 1966 by the U.N. General Assembly, UNCITRAL plays an important role in developing an improved legal framework for international trade and investment, and in harmonizing and modernizing the law of these fields. The substantive preparatory work involved in doing that is typically assigned to UNCITRAL’s working groups (see the U.N.’s “A Guide to UNCITRAL”).

The UNCITRAL Working Group II is composed of UNCITRAL’s 60 member States and has been developing work focused on arbitration, conciliation and mediation, and dispute settlement. The group’s most recent project is the Singapore Convention. A signing ceremony for the convention is scheduled for Aug. 7, 2019.  Now, as mentioned above, the group’s attention has turned to the topic of expedited arbitration.

Expedited arbitration aims to streamline the process to reduce its time and cost. This topic has long been discussed by the international arbitration community and explored by arbitration institutions, mostly due to concerns with the length, cost and undue formality in the process, especially in less complex cases.

At the beginning of the group’s deliberations, it was generally agreed that this session’s work should “focus on establishing an international framework on expedited arbitration, without prejudice to the form that such work might take.” After that, the work should then proceed to analyze aspects relating to emergency arbitrators, adjudication, early dismissal of claims, and preliminary determinations by arbitral tribunals.

During the session, Working Group II participants discussed in depth many issues related to key aspects of expedited arbitration, including how to foster efficiency while preserving quality, due process and fairness; enforcement of awards resulting from expedited arbitration; application of the expedited procedure, and management of the proceedings.

CPR’s contributed substantially to the discussion throughout the week. In the Working Group II session’s first day, Anna Hershenberg pointed out that since its foundation, CPR has focused on creating rules that aim at efficient dispute resolution and users’ autonomy. She noted that in order to foster efficiency, CPR has built into its domestic and international arbitration rules quick time frames. Consequently, CPR’s international and domestic arbitration cases historically take an average of slightly more than 11 months from commencement of the proceedings to the arbitral award.

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Anna M. Hershenberg making her remarks during the session.

Later in the week, addressing the Working Group’s request to arbitral institutions to provide input on their experiences handling expedited arbitration proceedings, Olivier André pointed out:

CPR administered and non-administered arbitration rules already provide for time requirements which limit the length of proceedings. Users of CPR arbitration often customize their arbitration clauses to further limit these time requirements. In 2006, CPR also promulgated a fast-track procedure to supplement the non-administered arbitration rules. Parties can agree to this procedure to shorten the time requirements provided for under the rules and limit certain other procedural aspects, such as disclosure and the number of arbitrators, to expedite their proceeding.

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Olivier P. André making his remarks during the session.

Besides the CPR’s Fast Track Arbitration Rules, CPR also offers to users two other set of rules that provide for expedited arbitration procedures: The CPR Rules for Expedited Arbitration of Construction Disputes, and the CPR’s Global Rules for Accelerated Commercial Arbitration. In addition, CPR’s committees, which are composed of representatives from different stakeholders involved in the arbitration process, often discuss ways to improve the arbitration process in general and in specific industries.

By the end of the week’s discussion, Working Group II was able to find a consensus in many of the key aspects of expedited arbitration discussed, such as reasoned vs. unreasoned awards, monetary thresholds, and number of arbitrators for expedited arbitration.

Several questions, however, are still open to discussion for the next Working Group II session. For example, what will be the form of the group’s work? And will this international framework be applied to arbitration in general, or specific to international commercial arbitration?

The next session of the UNCITRAL Working Group II is preliminarily scheduled to take place from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, 2019, at the United Nations in Vienna. CPR is looking forward to continuing to contribute to the efforts.

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The author is CPR’s International Consultant/Legal Intern. He holds a LL.B. from Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná (Brazil) and a LL.M. in International Commercial Law and Dispute Resolution from Pepperdine Law/Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution.