International Arbitrator, Counsel, Consultant

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Arbitration Venues: a Modern Makeover

Since my first arbitration in 1999 I have attended hearings in all sorts of hotels, conference rooms, hearing rooms and law firms. I have always loved hearings and have never minded where the hearing takes place. Yet there has often been the sense that the arbitration had to adapt to suit the venue. As arbitrators, from being squeezed on to too small tables, to having to crane our necks to look at screens, compromise always seemed to be in the air. I recently chaired a large energy arbitration in Texas and we took over a 5* hotel for 2 weeks for the evidentiary hearing. The parties were tireless in their efforts to equip it with the required technology (which worked perfectly, by the way, we never had occasion to reach for a hard copy in the whole two weeks) but this meant there were wires everywhere and yes, the tribunal’s table was still too small. Luckily we were a very collegial tribunal.

But the days of compromise and trip hazards may be over. Last week I was privileged to have a private tour of the new facilities at the International Arbitration Centre in the heart of London. I came away inspired and frankly astounded by the level of thought that has gone into the fitting out of the building. The International Arbitration Centre is located on Fleet Street and is now open for bookings for arbitration hearings.

For an arbitrator like me, who works almost entirely electronically, the available technology is extraordinary. There are high-speed fibre-optic connections with private networks and encrypted wireless networks. There are HD video and audio conferencing, recording and transcription facilities. There is a built in booth for simultaneous interpretation. The whole place is completely sound-proofed, which is a huge bonus. I am always conscious that sound travels and a properly sound-proofed venue removes a level of worry over the secrecy of deliberations or discussion.

Visiting the International Arbitration Centre last week I really had a feeling that arbitration had had a very modern makeover. I have said in previous blog posts that change is within our grasp in international arbitration in terms of addressing our issues with diversity. It is well accepted that surroundings can influence behaviour. Venues like the International Arbitration Centre will go a long way towards helping arbitration shed its old-fashioned image and look more to the future.