Category Archives: ICSID

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.

[ICSID GUEST POST] Appeal, Review, Annulment …. What’s it all about?

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This post is a guest contribution from Ms. Meg Kinnear, Secretary-General of ICSID.

 

The extent to which a legal decision should be reviewable is a question that all legal systems must address.  On the one hand, everyone can agree that decisions should be correct, and that getting the law, the facts and the procedure right are vital to the administration of justice. One of the ways legal systems try to ensure correct outcomes is by having a second body [and in some national systems, a third and even a fourth court!] review the first decision and correct any errors made by the original tribunal.

On the other hand, some argue that an equally important role of legal decision makers is to resolve disputes once and for all, so that the opposing parties have a final outcome, certainty, and the ability to get on with business without spending time and money on legal appeals. Balancing the goals of “correctness” and “finality” is difficult, and defining the right level of review can depend on factors such as cost, timing, the rights in question, and the goals of the legal system.

Discussion about how to balance correctness and finality has also taken place in the international investment context.  Indeed, the States drafting the ICSID Convention debated this question as early as the mid-1960s when they designed the Convention. States finally decided to provide a review called “annulment” which allowed a second look at ICSID awards, but on limited grounds.  These grounds were set out in Article 52 of the ICSID Convention and allowed a new panel [the ad hoc Committee] to annul an award if: [1] the tribunal was improperly constituted; [2] the tribunal manifestly exceeded its powers; [3] a tribunal member was corrupt; [4] there was a serious departure from a fundamental rule of procedure; or [5] the tribunal failed to state reasons for its decision [paraphrased from Article 52 of the ICSID Convention].

In 2004, ICSID issued a public discussion paper outlining possible features of an international investment appeals system.  The paper suggested that an appeal mechanism could be designed to provide a broader range of review on the basis of clear error of law, serious error of fact, or any of the five grounds of review in Article 52 of the ICSID Convention. States decided not to pursue an appeals facility at that time, however ICSID undertook to further study the matter and to offer its assistance and expertise if treaty negotiators decided to pursue this course in the future.

On September 16, 2015, the European Commission [EC] released a draft text on investment under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP].  This draft included a proposal to create an Appeal Tribunal that could review an award issued by an investment tribunal.  The EC proposal builds on the ICSID Convention by suggesting that investment awards under the TTIP could be appealed based on the grounds in Article 52 of the ICSID Convention plus error of law or manifest error of fact [paraphrased from Article 29 of the EC text].

As investment cases grow in number and complexity, and increasingly arise out of an investment treaty, the discussion on the appropriate level of review for such awards will continue. Clearly the task of establishing the optimal level of review between correctness and finality is a difficult one, and it will be interesting to follow treaty negotiations as they grapple with this question.

Ms. Meg Kinnear, Secretary-General of ICSID

ISDS and the Rule of Law

Wooden judge's gavel and calculator over some financial documentsISDS is governed by international rules, established by states. The governing rules can either be the Convention on Settlement of International Investment Disputes (the ICSID Convention) or other sets of arbitration rules, to name one is the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. These rules ensure the proper and fair functioning of the mechanism. Let’s take a look at these rules.

The ICSID Convention has been signed by 159 states and it has governed most ISDS cases. It provides, among others, that an arbitrator in an ISDS case can be disqualified if he or she shows lack of the qualities required to sit as an arbitrator. Awards rendered under this convention may be annulled, among others if arbitrators manifestly exceeded their authority.

The UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules is a result of the work of the United Nations Commissions on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) which commenced in 1973. The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the first version of UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules in 1976. The rules provide, among other things, that arbitrators can be challenged if there is any doubt about their impartiality and independence.

On the enforcement front, ISDS is safeguarded by the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. The Convention demands that all state parties enforce decision rendered in the other state parties. This means that ISDS decision is enforceable in 154 states, who are parties to this Convention.

Finally, domestic law is also one of the pillars which safeguards the functioning of ISDS. Domestic law may provide grounds for a domestic court to refuse enforcement of ISDS award, for example if a party to the dispute was unable to present its case in an arbitration proceeding.

ISDS supports and governed by rule of law. It is not a “private justice system” outside the legal system, as is sometimes incorrectly referred to. As explained above, states have always had strong involvement in establishing the rules governing the mechanism.

Arbitrators’ expertise makes ISDS strong

???????As investment and trade develop, disputes will be more diverse. Looking back at history, the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) only registered 28 ISDS cases during the first two decades after its establishment. In contrast, there have been 38 cases registered at the ICSID in the year 2014 alone. The substantive issues of disputes have become more diverse, and therefore a wider range of expertise is needed to solve the disputes.

One cannot perceive how future disputes will look like and what expertise will be required. At the same time, the quality of ISDS outcome needs to be ensured. The current practice has served this purpose by allowing parties to the dispute and/or arbitration institutes to appoint arbitrators from a broad range of expertise, as opposed to a pre-determined list.

Let’s look at some of the cases. In Glamis Gold v. USA, the tribunal had to decide whether a requirement to conduct a certain mining technique had constituted an indirect expropriation. This case required expertise to assess the value of the mining project, including evaluation of mineral price. In fact, the tribunal contributed 100-page analysis only on this issue.

In another case, Methanex v. USA, the tribunal was faced with lengthy submissions from parties on whether or not a certain chemical for fuel production was dangerous for the environment. In addition, there have been other complicated disputes on, among other things, electricity pricing and gas pricing. The above cases are only small part in the big pool of ISDS cases which requires specific expertise.

The current system of arbitrator’s appointment has made international arbitration able to adapt with the present needs of dispute resolution. Most importantly, it can keep up with the trade development. It is therefore unwise to replace this important feature with a pre-determined list of arbitrators.

Why ICSID was established

national flags of the different states against the blue skyIt is challenging to reach an agreement on a global level on key issues, as shown in the global efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The investment law regime has long had the same problem. Many attempts to agree on a global standard for the protection of foreign investments have failed because of the countries’ different ideas about which rights to be provided for foreign investors.

It was this failure that motivated the World Bank to establish ICSID (International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes). Instead of regulating the level of protection that foreign investors can rely on – and therefore had proved to be very difficult – the solution was to establish a purely procedural framework for settling disputes by way of the ICSID Convention, which was signed in 1965. The Convention does not provide substantive investment protection. This matter has instead been left to countries to agree among themselves, often at a bilateral level.

By focusing on the procedural aspects rather than on substantial, ICSID has gained great support from countries. In addition, a big problem in the mid-twentieth century could be fixed: State’s intervention in economic matters. Previously, disputes between governments and foreign investors could only be solved by government intervention. In a world where major former colonial powers often faced the newly independent countries, the country with the power often won. In addition, some part of world trade took place with countries with a negative view on market economy, such as those who belonged to Soviet’s sphere of interest. By the establishment of ICSID, the playing field could be evened out and independent dispute resolution was first introduced in world trade. Instead of political power, rule of law would decide the disputes.

In hindsight, this has proven to be a recipe for success for ICSID. The Convention has now been signed by 159 countries and the centre in Washington has administered hundreds of disputes. Furthermore, while global attempts to regulate investment protection have failed, ICSID remains strong. The reason was largely because the majority of the thousands of bilateral investment treaties (BITs) refers to the center to solve disputes. Even in modern times new investment agreement continuously refer to ICSID for the settlement of investment disputes.

Today, there have been ideas to create a global system for settling investment disputes. It may be worthwhile to remember that there is already such a system, which for decades has been accepted by the overwhelming majority of the countries, and that this system was established with the aim of creating a neutral playing field for dispute resolution that otherwise tend to be politicized.

A quick read of the EU Commission’s Investment Court Proposal

CommissionYesterday the EU Commission presented its proposal for the investment chapter in the TTIP, which is the result of a long consultation. The text, which runs to almost 40 pages, is available here. It will now be discussed internally in the EU and then put on the negotiating table with the US.

Below we briefly go through some of the noteworthy aspects:

The dispute procedure

-        A “court system” consisting of one Investment Tribunal and one Appeals Tribunal is set up.

-        The tribunals will work under established arbitration rules: ICSID, UNCITRAL or “any other rules agreed by the parties”, depending on the choice of the investor in the particular case. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the Commission is here relying on established practice.

-        While it is positive that the proposal draws so extensively on established arbitration rules, many areas remain where the interaction between the proposal and those rules must be studied further. This is most obvious when it comes to the enforcement of awards, but also other aspects such as the Appeals Tribunal and the appointment of arbitrators need extensive analysis before being included in a treaty.

-        It is made clear that the tribunal only has the mandate to look at cases through the lens of international law. Consequently, domestic law cannot be applied or reviewed by the tribunal.

-        Mediation provisions have been introduced. While mediation is sometimes often possible under the current system (and most disputing parties so far have elected not to mediate) such a procedure makes sense for reasons of efficiency. Mediation is however a challenge from a transparency perspective as it is hard to mediate openly.

The arbitrators/the system

-        The relationship is unclear between this proposal (which is aimed only at the TTIP) and the ambitious but vague multilateral dispute settlement mechanism envisioned by the Commission (which is to set up some sort of World Investment Court in the future). Under Article 12, many parts of the current proposal will cease to apply when/if a permanent multilateral system is set up. With this solution, the Commission is kicking the can further down the road.

-        Arbitrators can only be drawn from a list established by states. This is problematic because one of the two parties (the state) will set the frames for the disputes when the other (the investor) can only appoint from a list pre-approved by the state. Under the current system, each party can freely choose its own arbitrator.

-        States have to negotiate over whom to put on the list of arbitrators. This risks a politicization of the appointments, which is exactly what investment arbitration is intended to avoid.

-        Furthermore, the arbitrators must fulfill an almost impossible list of requirements to be eligible for the list. Annex II – where the arbitrators’ code of conduct is set down – in combination with the requirements in Article 9(4), leave a very small group of people eligible. In practice, depending on how the requirements are interpreted, it is likely that only retired lawyers (and probably only retired judges) will be able to sit as arbitrators. This restricts the parties’ possibility to appoint the most suitable arbitrator and also ensures that only a small elite gets to adjudicate investment disputes.

-        The Appeals Tribunal, allowing the case to be reheard on its merits, is sure to make disputes much longer and much more expensive; the average dispute would likely be twice as expensive as under the current system, which affects both investors and states.

Transparency

-        An express reference to the UNCITRAL Transparency Rules is included. The proposal even goes further than the Rules by making clear that many documents, including everything from proceedings before the Appeal Tribunal, shall always be made public.

-        The proposal extends the possibility for third parties to intervene. While the general tendency towards transparency is desirable, Article 23 states that the tribunal “shall permit any natural or legal person which can establish a direct and present interest in the result of the dispute”. This seems to (i) restrict the tribunal’s discretion by saying that it “shall” allow such submissions and (ii) considerably widen the scope of who shall be allowed to file submissions. In comparison, the UNCITRAL Rules on Transparency states that the tribunal “may” allow such submissions, after consulting the parties and only if it finds the submission could be helpful.

 

NGO voices in ISDS

Conference table, microphones and office chairs close-up

Beginning in 2001, a number of different NGOs have been active in ISDS proceedings, most commonly in cases with public interest aspects. This includes cases referring to measures related to for example environmental protection and public health.

NGOs may apply to be “a friend of the court”, or commonly referred to as amicus curiae. This means that the organisation contributes with a written submission to assist the tribunal in the assessment of the claims.

Participation of NGOs was initially found only in ISDS cases brought under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The NAFTA parties have issued a joint statement which essentially says that the NAFTA does not prohibit submission of a non-party, in this case may include NGOs.

Methanex Corp v USA was the first case where the tribunal opened up for NGOs to make written submission, which included environmental organizations and research institutes. In addition, these NGOs also attended the hearing. It was followed by Glamis Gold v. USA, where the tribunal received written submission by, among others, a locally-based Quechan Indian Tribe, whose sacred sites and traditions were affected by the investor’s mining project.

Since then the ICSID Arbitration Rules have been amended to clarify that tribunals have the general authority to allow submissions by an organisation which is not a party in the dispute.

NGOs have participated not only in NAFTA cases. In Biwater Gauff v. Tanzania, the tribunal accepted written submission from NGOs with an expertise in human rights, environmental and good governance issues.

A recent development is the participation of international organization in ISDS proceeding, as shown in Phillip Morris v. Uruguay. In this case, not yet decided, the opinions of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat will also be heard, based on the ICSID Arbitration Rules.

In a recent development, the UNCITRAL Transparency Rules, in force as of 1 April 2014, provide that tribunal may allow submission from non-disputing parties for matters within the dispute. Read our previous post on this.

 

 

Seminar report: ISDS – A Way Forward

AndrinaSeminariumImage2red3BloggThe SCC, in cooperation with the Association of International Arbitration and Brussels Diplomatic Academy of Vrije Universiteit Brussels organized a seminar, ISDS: Away Forward in Brussels, on 27 May 2015. The speakers were arbitration practitioners from Sweden, Belgium and France, including SCC Legal Counsels and representatives from the International Bar Association Subcommittee on Investment Arbitration. Read the full programme here.

The historical background of ISDS was explained, and how the mechanism was established under the ICSID Convention as a response to inefficient diplomatic protection to foreign investors. The discussion continued with the currently-debated issue, ISDS and environmental protection. SCC presented research findings that the number of ISDS cases where investors brought a claim because of environmental regulation is small. The findings from these cases support a conclusion that arbitral tribunals have not questioned the power of government to regulate for environmental protection.

In addition, some procedural aspects of ISDS were addressed, particularly transparency and public participation. The speakers emphasized that this is in fact not a new development, as tribunals have supported transparency and public participation to an increasing extent in the past decade. A new procedural development of ISDS, emergency arbitrator, was also discussed.

A speaker reminded that when discussing reform of the system, public opinion should always be taken into account.  It is important to ensure that the democratic values are preserved. The International Bar Association (IBA) is working on a project to bring together opinions from different stakeholders in ISDS. The ambition is to address the criticisms surrounding ISDS and to propose improvements of the system, when needed.

IBA has also recently published a statement, addressing facts of ISDS.

The dynamic and forward-looking discussion from the participants were much appreciated. More discussions will follow ahead to preserve the rule of law and ISDS.

The European Commission Concept Paper on ISDS

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The European Commission has published a concept paper on proposals for a potential future ISDS-mechanism in the TTIP.

According to the paper, a new approach in the EU investment policy is needed, where “a major part of the challenge is to make sure any system for dispute settlement is fair and independent”.

It may be observed that the paper contains no clear elaboration on how the current system is unfair and not independent. In contrast, in our experience the current system in the vast majority of cases does represent the values of fairness and independence.

As a starting point, the paper asserts that the EU has achieved a certain level of ISDS reform as embodied in the EU free trade agreements with Canada and Singapore. The paper addresses “what should be further improved”.

Firstly, the paper proposes an exclusive roster of arbitrators pre-established by State parties of the investment agreement. Several arguments could be raised against such practice. It is impossible to foresee what future disputes under an agreement will look like and what specific expertise will be required. A pre-established roster may constitute an obstacle for the dispute to be resolved by the most suitable arbitrator.

Secondly, the paper proposes an appellate mechanism “to ensure correctness and predictability”. It deserves pointing out that the ICSID Convention or the provisions of New York Convention already serves this purpose. Under the ICSID system, an award can be annulled on procedural grounds, among others if the tribunal manifestly exceeded its powers.

If what is desired is to try the whole case again at the appeal stage, it will significantly increase the time and costs associated the dispute. An appeal mechanism in itself is no safeguard to enhance predictability – this is best achieved by well formulated substantive terms.

Finally, the paper foresees the creation of “a permanent multilateral system for investment disputes”. The Commission seems to ignore that such system is already in place through the Washington Convention and the ICSID system, which has been endorsed by more than 150 states.

The impression is that the reform proposals were made based on “perception”, or more precisely, misperception on the system. A stronger emphasis on empirical evidence would better serve a higher standard in the decision-making process ahead.

For more information, read the SCC’s remarks on the Concept Paper here.

ICSID Numbers with a Focus on the European Union

The International Center for Settlement of Investment Dispute (ICSID) has released its caseload statistics with a special focus on the European Union. The ICSID is an organization within the World Bank Group, and administers the majority of ISDS cases.

As of March 1, 2014, the ICSID had registered 463 cases under the ICSID Convention and Additional Facility Rules.

The statistics show as follows:

  • Among 463 cases administered by the ICSID, 55 cases or 12% of the cases, involved a member State of the European Union as respondents.
  • Of these 55 cases, 71% were commenced by an investor who was also from an EU member State. In short, the majority are intra-EU cases.
  • Almost a third (27%) of these cases were instituted by individual persons.
  • Sweden, the United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Portugal are member States that have not been a respondent State in ICSID cases.
  • The EU member States that have appeared most frequent as respondent in ISDS proceedings are Hungary (11 cases) and Romania (9 cases).
  • Investors from an EU member State were involved in 54% of the total of registered ICSID cases. This makes EU investors the most frequent users of ISDS.