Second Circuit: No U.S. Discovery for Private International Arbitration

By Yixian Sun

Does 28 U.S.C. §1782(a), which authorizes “any interested person” in a proceeding before a “foreign or international tribunal” to ask for and receive discovery from a person in the United States, cover private international arbitration tribunals? (Full text available at https://bit.ly/3fvtr8z .)

This is a hot issue in the arbitration world, with cases sprinkled throughout the federal courts. In the latest decision, the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held last week that arbitration isn’t covered by Section 1782. In re Application and Petition of Hanwei Gup for an Order to take Discovery for Use in a Foreign Proceeding Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1782 (Guo v. Deutsche Bank Securities Inc.), No. 19-781, 2020 WL 3816098 (2d Cir. July 8, 2020), as amended (July 9, 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/38SLd) (Guo).

And that move aggravates a circuit split created in recent months that points to the U.S. Supreme Court in an area that a year ago was considered settled law.

For more than two decades, the answer to the question on Section 1782’s applicability to private arbitral tribunals has been a firm “no.” In National Broadcasting Co. v. Bear Stearns & Co., 165 F.3d 184 (2nd Cir. 1999) (available at https://bit.ly/2UcWfdq) (“NBC”), the Second Circuit held that the phrase “foreign or international tribunal” does not encompass “arbitral bod[ies] established by private parties,” id. at 191. The Fifth Circuit quickly reached the same conclusion in Republic of Kazakhstan v. Biedermann Int’l, 168 F.3d 880 (5th Cir. 1999) (available at https://bit.ly/3gViPB0).

But the tide is turning. In 2019 and 2020, the Sixth Circuit and Fourth Circuit each decided that a private, party-contracted international arbitration panel constituted “tribunals” under Section 1782, in In re Application to Obtain Discovery for Use in Foreign Proceedings (Abdul Latif Jameel Transp. Co. v. FedEx Corp.), 939 F.3d 710 (6th Cir. 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/2AFPIB9) and Servotronics Inc. v. Boeing Co., 954 F.3d 209 (4th Cir. 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/3h7s0P8), thereby breaking with its sister circuits.

In the new July/August edition of Alternatives, and in an online discussion with Alternatives’ Editor Russ Bleemer, John B. Pinney, a senior trial lawyer at Graydon, in Cincinnati, provided an in-depth explanation on the changing landscape on this seemingly settled legal issue. See CPR Speaks for the discussion, the article, and links to the cases, at https://bit.ly/3gxyPIG.

Lying in the background of this debate is Intel Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., 542 U.S. 241 (2004) ((available at https://bit.ly/2zamp9C), the only Section 1782 case considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Intel, writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg held that the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition constituted a “foreign or international tribunal” within the meaning of Section 1782.

Intel did not directly address the issue of whether a private international tribunal is a “foreign or international tribunal.” Ginsberg’s opinion, however, cited a 1965 law review article written by Columbia Law School’s Professor Hans Smit, who has participated in the amendment of Section 1782: “the term ‘tribunal’ … includes investigating magistrates, administrative and arbitral tribunals, and quasi-judicial agencies, as well as conventional civil, commercial, criminal, and administrative courts.” Id. at 248-49 (citing Hans Smit, International Litigation Under the United States Code, 65 Colum. L. Rev. 1015, 1026, n.71 (1965)).

The Intel court’s favorable reference to Smit’s expanded interpretation of “foreign or international tribunals” was used by the Sixth Circuit as an additional support of its inclusion of private international arbitration under Section 1782. In re Application to Obtain Discovery for Use in Foreign Proceedings, 939 F.3d at 724.

This fact was also heavily relied upon by the petitioner in the new Second Circuit Guo decision. As noted, the panel rejected the petitioner’s reasoning, and concluded that “nothing in the Supreme Court’s Intel decision alters [its] prior conclusion in NBC that §1782 (a) does not extend to private international commercial arbitrations.” In re Guo, at *2.

* * *

In 2018, Hanwei Guo initiated arbitration against Guomin Xie, Tencent Music, and several other entities before the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, best known as CIETAC. Id. at *4.

According to Guo, Xie and other respondents, through a series of fraudulent transactions, led him into selling his shares in the companies that later became part of Tencent Music for less than the shares allegedly were worth. Guo asked for compensation and asked to have his equity stake restored. The parties selected an arbitral panel in April 2019, and the matters are still pending. Id. at *3-5.

In December 2018, Guo filed a petition for discovery for information from four underwriters related to Tencent Music’s IPO pursuant to Section 1782 in New York’s  Southern District Court. Following the NBC precedent and determining that the nature of CIETAC is closer to a “private arbitral body,” the SDNY denied Guo’s application in February 2019. In re Application of Hanwei Guo for an Order to Take Discovery for Use in a Foreign Proceeding Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1782, 2019 WL 917076, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 25, 2019).

The Second Circuit affirmed last week. According to the panel, private international commercial arbitrations are still barred from proceedings under Section 1782 even in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Intel decision. The panel also determined that the arbitration before CIETAC is indeed a “non-covered, private, international commercial arbitration.” In re Guo, at *1-2.

Writing for a unanimous panel, Judge Debra A. Livingston offered several reasons in defending why NBC remains good law.

The Second Circuit recounted the NBC-Intel history, and tackled the recent Fourth and Sixth Circuit cases going the other way, finding that Section 1782 applied to private arbitrations. 

Judge Livingston noted that the Intel court’s “fleeting reference” of “arbitral tribunals” is merely dicta. Id. at *17. Even if this reference had any legal significance, she added that under Section 1782, “‘arbitral tribunals’ does not necessarily encompass private tribunals,” because even Prof. Smit stated that “an international tribunal owes both its existence and its powers to an international agreement.” Id. (Quoting Hans Smit, Assistance Rendered by the United States in Proceedings Before International Tribunals, 62 Columbia L. Rev. 1264, 1267 (1962); the opinion also points to NBC, 165 F.3d at 189 (citing Smit’s 1962 article)).

Moreover, according to the Second Circuit panel, the legislative history does not warrant recognition of private international arbitration as “tribunals” under Section 1782. While Congress introduced the phrase “foreign or international tribunal” in order to expand the provision’s earlier formulation (which permitted for assistance only for “judicial proceeding[s] in any court in a foreign country”), a survey of House and Senate reports did not reveal the legislators’ intention to promote a “much more dramatic expansion into private arbitration.” Id. at *18-19. (Emphasis is the Second Circuit’s.)

The Second Circuit then found that the CIETAC arbitration did not qualify as an arbitration under a state-sponsored adjudicatory body, noting that “district court correctly concluded that the CIETAC arbitration is a private international commercial arbitration outside the scope of § 1782(a)’s ‘proceeding in a foreign or international tribunal’ requirement.”

In doing so, Judge Livingston analyzed whether “the [arbitral] body in question possesses the functional attributes most commonly associated with private arbitration.”

Several factors were taken into account. First, CIETAC, evolving from a government-sponsored entity, now “possesses a high degree of independence and autonomy” in its administration of arbitral cases, “and, conversely, a low degree of state affiliation.” Id. at *21-22.

Second, the power possessed by the Chinese government to “intervene to alter the outcome of an arbitration after the [CIETAC] panel has rendered a decision” is limited. In fact, such power is similar to that possessed by a U.S. court in setting aside or enforcing a private arbitration award under the Federal Arbitration Act and its incorporation of the New York Convention on the enforcement of international arbitration awards. Id. at *22-24.

Third, the CIETAC panel derives its jurisdiction “exclusively from the agreement of the parties,” rather than “any governmental grant of authority.” Id. at *24.

Finally, the ability of the parties to select their own arbitrators further suggests the private status of the CIETAC arbitration. Id. at *24-25.

* * *

The Second Circuit’s ruling mirrors the Fifth Circuit opinion in El Paso Corp. v. La Comision Ejecutiva Hidroelectrica Del Rio Lempa, 341 F. App’x 31 (5th Cir. 2009) (unpublished) (Available at https://bit.ly/3gXOTU7). There, the Fifth Circuit held that Intel has no negative effect on its Biedermann analysis, and concluded that a private Swiss arbitral tribunal did not constitute a “tribunal” within Section 1782. Id. at *34.

Judge Livingston also responded to the more-recent contrary rulings made by the Sixth and the Fourth Circuits. She pointed out that the Sixth Circuit never said that Intel compels a ruling allowing discovery for private arbitration. Rather, it held that such a way of understanding “was merely consistent” with Intel. In re Guo, at *17 (emphasis is the Second Circuit’s); see also In re Application to Obtain Discovery for Use in Foreign Proceedings, 939 F.3d at 725-26.

The Fourth Circuit’s Servotronics opinion, on the other hand, was based on the finding that the U.K. arbitration at issue was a “product of government-conferred authority,” thereby falling into the same framework as the Second and the Fifth Circuits which limited § 1782 to tribunals “acting with the authority of the State.” In re Guo at *14 (quoting Servotronics, 954 F.3d at 214).

Indeed, the Intel decision neither compelled, nor rejected, the inclusion of private international commercial arbitration under Section 1782.

Therefore, before a directly on-point Supreme Court opinion, lower courts are free to make their own judgments, according to their own statutory construction methodologies, policy considerations, and factors considered in determining the nature of a foreign tribunal.

The Second Circuit relies more on legislative history in understanding the scope of “tribunals,” but the Sixth Circuit uses a textualist approach and looks into the usage of “tribunals” in legal writings. Compare In re Application to Obtain Discovery for Use in Foreign Proceedings, 939 F.3d at 726-28, with In re Guo at *18-19.

The Second Circuit fears that allowing discovery would decrease the efficiency and the cost-effectiveness of private arbitration, whereas the Sixth Circuit appear to dismiss such concerns. Compare In re Application to Obtain Discovery for Use in Foreign Proceedings, 939 F.3d at 728, with In re Guo at *11. The Second Circuit believes that the fact that arbitrations are sanctioned, regulated and judicially supervised by the national authority does not suffice to make them “state-sponsored,” while the Fourth Circuit holds the contrary. Compare Servotronics, Inc. v. Boeing Co., 954 F.3d at 214-15, with In re Guo at *21-26.

* * *

One thing seems to be certain. A Supreme Court response is strongly called for. In a motion to stay issuance of the mandate, Rolls-Royce, the appellee in the Fourth Circuit’s Servotronics decision, represented that it intended to file a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court.

Now that the Second Circuit refuses to change its position, author John Pinney predicted that the odds of the Supreme Court granting certiorari would increase. John B. Pinney, “Will the Supreme Court Take Up Allowing Discovery Under Section 1782 for Private International Arbitrations?” 38 Alternatives 103 (July/August 2020) (available in multiple formats at https://bit.ly/2ZwUt8N).

Other commentators, share similar expectations with Pinney. See, e.g., David Zaslowsky, “Second Circuit Holds That Section 1782 Discovery is Not Available in Aid of Private International Commercial Arbitration,” Global Arbitration News (July 10, 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/2CDUzne). Stay tuned for the next development.

* * *

The author, a second-year Harvard Law School student, is a 2020 CPR Institute Summer Intern.

A Report on the 2019 CPR European Congress on Business Dispute Management (Part I)

EU flagBy Vanessa Alarcón Duvanel and Kathleen Fadden

On 15 May 2019, CPR held its third annual European Congress on Business Dispute Management, in London. Organized by CPR’s European Advisory Board (the “EAB”) and kindly hosted once more by SwissRe in the magnificent Gherkin building, the Congress inspired thought provoking considerations on topics of dispute prevention and resolution. As with last year’s summary, we have split this reporting in two parts: a Part I sharing the morning panel sessions, and a Part II covering the afternoon panels.

“The Future of ADR”

The first panel examined how the ADR community was responding to recent attacks on traditional arbitration and mediation and how ADR can remain relevant.  It was moderated by Mark McNeill (EAB member, Quinn Emmanuel Urquhart & Sullivan (then Sherman & Sterling).  The panelists sharing their perspectives were: Stefano Catelani (DuPont), Ferdinando Emanuele (Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton), Jennifer Glasser (White & Case) and Noah Hanft (CPR).

Considering the recent developments in dispute resolution, the panel’s remit was to consider whether ADR was approaching crisis point or, whether in fact, there were new opportunities to be seized.  The panel tackled a variety of topics:

Driving mediation into the arbitration process and whether arbitrators should encourage mediation.

Some jurisdictions still have limited acceptance of mediation for multifarious reasons: it can be difficult to find qualified mediators, arbitrators are reluctant to promote mediation and model escalation clauses often force a “check the box” type approach where mediation is not given adequate consideration and viewed solely as a mandatory step.  CPR has been actively encouraging mediation over the world and made a particular push in Brazil.  It has been considering a more flexible model escalation clause that whilst mandating mediation, is not prescriptive about when it shall occur – provided it is before the case is heard.  The use of mediation is referenced in the new 2019 CPR Rules for Administered Arbitration of International Disputes and mediation is now a topic for discussion within the preliminary conference (Rule 9.3e).

How will this change the ADR landscape in the coming years?

Noah Hanft offered his perspective on the evolution of ADR: In his view there is no dispute that mediation is effective so it really is in companies’ interests to adopt mediation.  He anticipates a growth in mediation even though he noted that user complaints have succeeded in driving down the average time it takes to conclude an arbitration.  But there will also be more use of hybrid approaches and the desire for efficiency and cost containment will drive innovation in the area.  These thoughtful comments led the panel to add that mediation was in fact being used nowadays in various stages of a commercial relationship.  For example, mediation is resorted to in transactions to facilitate deals and in the joint venture space consideration was being given to the early identification of those issues that may lead to a dispute with the engagement of a standing neutral and/or the introduction of turnkey provisions requiring stakeholders to focus on the health of the joint venture.

Is ADR at all relevant in investor state disputes?

When it comes to mediation or settlement negotiation, it is often politically very difficult for states to settle disputes with investors.  Andy Rogers of CEDR reported on an interesting development whereby CEDR, in collaboration with other organisations, is currently organizing training for mediators, ISDS practitioners and government officials to equip them with the knowledge and skills necessary to mediate investment disputes.

Will Brexit change the ADR landscape?

Since the Congress was hosted in the United Kingdom (UK) it would have been remiss not to consider the impact of Brexit on ADR!  English governing law and jurisdiction clauses have historically been popular choices for commercial parties and panelists were asked for their views on whether businesses should rethink this choice in light of Brexit.  The overall reaction was that there is no clear answer to the question and the area of greatest uncertainty likely concerns the enforcement of judgments.  Currently, under the Recast Brussels Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1215/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2012 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (recast) also known as the “Brussels regime”), a judgment rendered in an EU member state and enforceable in that member state is enforceable in all other member states.  If the UK exits the EU without an agreement on the continued operation of the Brussels regime, the latter will cease to apply and the reciprocity will be lost.  This could be remedied – to some extent – as the UK is seeking to become a member, in its own right, of the Hague Choice of Court Convention. As the panel noted, if the UK accedes to this international instrument, then as contracting state its courts must give effect to exclusive jurisdiction clauses and enforce any judgments resulting from such clauses. This blog cautions that the Hague Convention is narrower in scope than the Recast Brussels Regulation and questions still remain about the application of the Convention in circumstances where an exclusive jurisdiction clause has been entered into prior to the U.K.’s exit from the EU.   Post Congress, a new “Hague Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil or Commercial Matters” was adopted on 2 July 2019.  The UK adherence to this new treaty would resolve many of the enforcement issues triggered by Brexit.  Although the 2018 Queen Mary & White & Case International Arbitration Survey reported that London remained the most preferred seat of arbitration and over half of the respondents thought that Brexit will have no impact on the use of London as a seat, it is clear, Brexit has created doubts and given rise to many questions that only time will answer.

This led panelists to move naturally to another new development in ADR, namely the introduction in various jurisdictions of “international” courts.  The Netherlands, Germany and Singapore to name just a few have created or contemplated the opportunity of creating “international” commercial courts.  Typically, these courts – which are established under national law rather than by international treaty – operate in English and adopt arbitration type rules.  Do these represent a threat or a challenge to arbitration?  In general, the panel did not see a significant threat.  There are, of course, pros and cons with national courts and arbitration tribunals.  A key benefit of arbitral proceedings is confidentiality, which is not necessarily guaranteed in court proceedings.  With respect to enforcement, currently, there is no global convention for the enforcement of court judgments in the same way that the New York Convention facilitates enforcement of arbitral awards.  On the other hand, summary disposition of issues is available in some court systems but historically arbitrators have been cautious about their use – even though recent revisions to most leading arbitral rules (including the CPR Rules) permit such procedures.  In summary, there is space for both fora and the panel noted that certainly from a user perspective, competition and choice could only be positive.

The last aspect concerning the future of ADR which the panel considered was: the Prague Rules and whether they will lead to increased efficiencies in arbitration.

The Rules are intended to be an alternative to the well-known IBA Rules on the Taking of Evidence in International Arbitration (IBA Rules) and to bridge the gap between common and civil law approaches.  The panel’s position was not too optimistic.  Neither document production nor the taking of witness evidence are likely to be more efficient under the Prague Rules and the costs of arbitration proceedings are unlikely to reduce.  This is so because the Prague Rules provide a framework and do not exist in a vacuum; in many respects the level of efficiency and the nature of document production is driven more by the arbitrator.  In the panel’s view, rather than a new set of rules, it would be more useful to increase the pool of arbitrators  and even better, arbitrators that are more active!  The panel shared four examples as to why in its view the Prague Rules would not deliver efficiencies.  I) there is a conflict between article 2.1 which requires that the arbitral tribunal “shall” convene a case management conference “without any unjustified delay,” and the requirement in article 2.2 that the arbitral tribunal “shall” clarify at that same case management conference, undisputed / disputed facts and the legal grounds of the parties’ respective cases (among others). Indeed, experience shows that it would be inefficient (perhaps impossible) to clarify disputed and undisputed facts or legal positions on the basis of a Request for Arbitration and Answer to the Request since these typically do not contain sufficient detail.  II) article 4.2 on documentary evidence discourages document production but the rest of the provisions in the same section retreat from this position.  III) with respect to fact witnesses, articles 5.2 and 5.3 empower arbitrators to make determinations about calling witnesses but article 5.7 then rather diminishes that power by providing that if a party insists on calling a witness whose statement has been submitted by the other party, the arbitral tribunal should call the witness to testify at the hearing.  Finally, iv) in respect of experts, article 6.1 appears to make tribunal-appointed experts the default rule.  However article 6.5 states that a party may nonetheless submit a report from an expert appointed by that party.  Given that in practice many tribunals hear only party-appointed experts, the Prague Rules’ regime is likely to lead to arbitrations with both tribunal-appointed and party-appointed experts which will increase the volume of the parties’ submission, hearing time, and inevitably costs.

The future of ADR is in some respects uncertain (Brexit being an example) but at the same time full of interesting challenges and novelties.

“Preparing for the Robo-Revolution”

The second panel of the morning was similarly looking to the future but this time with a legal-tech focus.  The panel was moderated by Javier Fernández-Samaniego (Samaniego Law) and the panelists were: Ulyana Bardyn (Dentons US LLP), Diana Bowman (VINCI Energies), Sarah Ellington (DLA Piper) and Ralph Lindbäck (Wärtsila Corporation).

Should ADR practitioners be concerned about robots? Or do we consider that robots and computer arbitrators are still in the realm of science fiction?

To answer this question, the panel started by looking at the state and use of legal-tech today.  Certain types of dispute and several aspects of dispute management can be automated and in fact there are already automated tools deployed to handle routine and administrative tasks.  EBay was cited as an example, as it uses algorithms to generate decisions in e-commerce disputes.  Currently, automation is however mostly applied in low value disputes rather than complex cases. Whilst appropriate deployment of automated tools can bring benefits in terms of speed and accuracy, the panel noted that it also carries disadvantages and has its limitations.  For instance, it is not necessarily clear how due process will be respected if a computer arbitrator presides in an arbitration, or how algorithms could be created and comply with the confidentiality of arbitral proceedings, or how the parties would know how to pick the right algorithms for their dispute.  One significant limitation highlighted by the panel was the inescapable fact that disputes involve human beings and one cannot automate the relationship management aspect of dispute resolution!  Even if artificial intelligence were able to accurately predict the verdict in a dispute, some litigants simply want their day in court or their day in arbitration, an experience that no robot can satisfy.

Notwithstanding the challenges, law firms are preparing for the robot revolution and some have already achieved significant milestones in this respect. Law firm practitioners on the panel provided real insights into the approaches taken by their respective organizations.  Ulyana Bardyn shared with the audience some of Dentons’ leading efforts in this space including its collaborative innovation platform “Nextlaw Labs”; various programmes focused on case management enabling clients to see spending in real time, or assisting clients with finding the best pro bono help available; and the “Libryo platform” which aims to simplify legal complexity by providing a curated collection of all laws relevant to specific business sectors enabling lawyers to understand their organisation’s legal obligations in any given situation.

Sarah Ellington reported on DLA Piper’s own investments in technology and elaborated on three of the DLA tools, all of which are aimed at dispute avoidance.  A first tool is a guided pathway app geared to IT outsourcing projects and intended for commercial managers, it contains questions about project progress and status and produces a report with red flags if problems are detected.  The second is a virtual secondment tool which enables businesses to submit questions and have a response within 24 hours.  Finally, the firm has an immersive business simulation, essentially a training tool, geared toward infrastructure projects where users can engage in a facilitated session where they take on a particular role within a simulated project.

These tools are impressive from the lawyers’ perspective.  How is the business community reacting to this technology assisting their counsel?  Corporate counsels on the panel all agreed that dispute resolution should be looked upon as a value stream with a significant focus on dispute avoidance.  To reach this goal and develop successful tools, collaboration between law firms and their clients is key.  That is all the more relevant as the business community is making its own progresses in the digital arena.  Many businesses are entering into collaborations, partnerships and campus initiatives – e.g., sandbox environments where universities, startups and investors can come together to innovate– are growing.  Dispute resolution though is not always part of the picture. Would it ever be possible to predict that a dispute was coming?  In certain sectors, that Holy Grail may not be too far off.  As Diana Bowman described, VINCI Energies already attempts to obtain information about events that occur on site and shares it with the back office in real time.  With good record keeping and quality information there may be opportunities to both predict and resolve issues early before a dispute escalates.

Shifting gears slightly, the panel touched on another technology hot topic: cyber security. Cyber attacks are a significant and rapidly evolving peril for today’s businesses but the levels of security deployed, particularly in the arbitration field, varies significantly between, for example, sole practitioners and top tier international law firms.  Regardless of size, all can fall victim to an attack.  Speaking from experience, Sarah Ellington shared some of the lessons learned after DLA Piper suffered from the NotPetya malware attack in June 2017 resulting in all the firm’s IT systems globally being taken offline. The risks are real and the consequences of an attack can be devastating.  To cope with a potential problem, it is fundamental to have: an up-to-date business continuity plan including practical solutions for work continuation, a clear communication protocol, emergency contact groups, back up email, calendar and document management systems.

The digital revolution has arrived although not necessarily in all legal departments! In some of the most sophisticated companies the legal department does not even have a suite of templates.  Readers of this blog, as the audience at the Congress, are encouraged to think about the digital revolution as a wave: do you want to be bowled over by it or do you choose to ride it on a surf board?

Stay tuned for part II…

 

Vanessa Alarcon Duvanel is an attorney admitted to practice in New York and Switzerland and specializing in international arbitration. She is based in Geneva and serves as the Secretary to the European Advisory Board.

Kathleen Fadden is a legal consultant and member of the CPR’s European Advisory Board.

 

International Commercial Mediation Update: UNCITRAL Working Group II Moves Forward on Convention and Model Law

erinBy Erin Gleason Alvarez

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Working Group II met at its 68th session in New York from February 5 through 9 to finalize draft convention and model law documents. The focus of these instruments is on the enforcement of international commercial settlement agreements resulting from mediation.

Working Group II was initiated by UNCITRAL in 2014 in order to explore whether it is feasible to develop mechanisms for the enforcement of mediated agreements in international commercial disputes.  Since then, there have been several sessions to explore the most appropriate path forward.

The need for this Working Group grew out of concern that parties to mediated agreements may not be afforded the same protections as those available in international commercial arbitration. The United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention), entered into force in 1959, obligates States to recognize and enforce arbitral awards made in other contracting States.

To accommodate parties’ desire to mediate international commercial disputes, practices have emerged to try to transform a mediated settlement agreement into an arbitral award. In addition to practical concerns over enforceability, these steps add significant process to mediation, which parties tend to like because it is simpler than arbitration (among other reasons). Other recourse for enforcement of mediated settlements in international commercial disputes can include pursuing claims for enforcement of the agreement under contract law. But this may also be difficult in the international context, depending upon the jurisdiction where enforcement is sought. Protracted cross-border litigation to enforce a mediated settlement is counterintuitive at best.

Thus the proposed model law and convention seek to alleviate these concerns, recognizing the increased use of mediation in the international commercial context and the benefits that the mediation process affords parties. The instruments, as they are currently drafted, address both enforcement concerns and the possibility for a party to invoke a settlement agreement as a defense. To date, changes have not yet been uploaded to the UNCITRAL website that would show the most recent revisions to the draft model law and convention. The most recent drafts are available here.

By way of background, a “model law” is a template of sorts, for States to consider adopting locally. A “convention” on the other hand is an instrument that is binding on States and other entities (so long as they are signatory to the document).

What does all of this mean for parties to mediation? For now, it means waiting for further developments. UNCITRAL must ultimately approve the instruments before any adoption or ratification processes may commence. The Commission will commence review this summer.


Erin Gleason Alvarez is Principal at Gleason Alvarez ADR, LLC.  She serves on the CPR Institute Panel of Distinguished Neutrals and co-chairs the CPR Institute Mediation Committee.  Erin previously acted as the former Global Head of ADR Programs for AIG. 

Erin now serves as mediator and arbitrator in commercial and insurance disputes and may be reached at erin@gleasonadr.com