Ensuring ISDS rule-of-law outcome

AnullmentBlogAs a matter of principle, the outcome of ISDS proceeding, which is the arbitral award, is final and binding. This very feature has made international arbitration a success since it provides a speedy and efficient outcome for both states and foreign investors. International rules such as the ICSID Convention and the New York Convention provide mechanisms to ensure respect for the rule of law outcome in the proceedings. Where a breach of the conventions has occurred, this could result in an annulment or refusal of enforcement of the award.

The ICSID Convention has 153 state parties and most ISDS proceedings are conducted under this convention. The convention provides that both the state and foreign investor can request the award to be annulled for limited procedural reasons. Annulment is fundamentally different from appeal, as it only targets the legitimacy of the decision-making by the tribunal, and not the substantive correctness of the award.

Under the ICSID Convention, an award can be annulled for reasons of flaws on the part of the tribunal, among others, if it has manifestly exceeded its powers or if there was corruption by a member of the tribunal. Further, a serious departure from a fundamental rule of procedures is also a ground for annulment. The Chairman of the ICSID Administrative Council will assign an annulment committee to decide on a particular annulment proceeding.

In Enron v. Argentina, the committee found that the tribunal erred by too simply and quickly drawing legal conclusions from economists’ expert reports. By evaluating Argentina‘s defences in a manner that was so incomplete, according to the committee, it amounted to a failure to apply the applicable law. The award was therefore annulled.

The annulment committee also sided with the state in Klöckner v. Cameroon, where it held that the tribunal assumed that certain principles applied to the case, such as principles of loyalty and openness, rather than actually demonstrated that these principles existed. Therefore, the annulment committee found that the tribunal had manifestly exceeded its powers.

Outside the scope of the ICSID system, the New York Convention serves as an enforcement and recognition tool for arbitral awards. It provides that a domestic court may refuse to enforce an arbitral award on grounds, among others, that a party to the dispute was not given opportunity to present its case or if the award contains matters on issues beyond the scope of the arbitration agreement.