Arbitrators’ Independence and Impartiality

ArbitratorsBlogThe parties in an ISDS case select the arbitrators that resolve their dispute. Arbitration law and institutional rules provide layers of control mechanisms to ensure the impartiality and independence of these arbitrators.

The SCC Arbitration Rules require that every arbitrator must be impartial and independent. This requirement extends from the outset and throughout the proceeding. Prior to appointment, an arbitrator must disclose any circumstances which may give rise to justifiable doubts as to his or her impartiality or independence. Further, a party to a dispute may challenge an arbitrator during the course of the proceedings, if new circumstances arise or facts come to light that lead the party to doubt the arbitrator’s independence or impartiality.

Most institutions, including the SCC, evaluate challenges to arbitrators under an objective standard – that is, the arbitrator is disqualified if the circumstances, from the point of view of a reasonable third person, give rise to a conflict of interest. In other words, it is not necessary to show that the challenged arbitrator in fact lacks independence and impartiality, but rather that there is an appearance of partiality.

In arbitrations administered by the SCC, the SCC Board makes the final decision on arbitrator challenges. In evaluating challenges, the Board may refer to the International Bar Association Guidelines on Conflict of Interest in International Arbitration (“IBA Guidelines”). The IBA Guidelines list specific situations in which an arbitrator should decline an appointment, or step down if already appointed.

For example, the SCC Board sustained a respondent’s challenge to an arbitrator appointed by claimant because the arbitrator’s firm had been involved in matters both for and against the respondent. The arbitrator was released from the appointment. Read this article for more information on challenges in SCC cases.

The ICSID Convention, developed by States, provides that an arbitrator can be dismissed if he or she manifests a lack of the qualities required to sit as an arbitrator. A proposal to disqualify an arbitrator was upheld in Bluebank v. Venezuela, on the ground that the arbitrator appointed by claimant worked in a law firm that represented other claimants in unrelated ICSID cases against Venezuela.

Under the ICSID Convention, an ISDS award may be annulled if the tribunal was not properly constituted. This may include situations where an arbitrator failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest before or during the arbitration.