The Qatar International Centre for Conciliation and Arbitration (Qicca) at Qatar Chamber led a webinar titled ‘The Challenges of Online Arbitration and their Compatibility with Regulation and Systems of the GCC Commercial Arbitration Centre’, organised by the GCC Commercial Arbitration Centre (GCCCAC).
The webinar, which was chaired by Qicca board member for International Relations Sheikh Dr Thani bin Ali al-Thani, touched on measures that have been introduced for online arbitration at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. It was attended by officials of GCC commercial arbitration centres.
In his speech, Sheikh Thani said arbitration centres “have succeeded,” in co-operation with arbitral tribunals, dispute parties, and advocates, in creating a means for holding online hearings and pleadings using high-tech and advanced equipment.
“The need for holding online hearings will meet the needs of stakeholders, and they are corresponding with the in-person pleadings in terms of listening to witnesses and questioning them, discussing experts, and providing an opportunity for each party to present his lawsuit, arguments, and evidences,” he said.
Sheikh Thani noted that the arbitration award will be issued accordingly online and sent to all parties. He stressed that this would save a lot of time and expenses for all parties involved.
Due to the challenges of Covid-19, Sheikh Thani said a lot of arbitration cases were about to be closed without reaching a settlement. However, this forced arbitration centres to resume their activities remotely, and develop alternative methods for registering cases, sending and receiving notes and other documents by electronic means.
“Over the past months, the world faced many challenges at all levels, especially the economic and social aspects of life, and many countries faced difficulties in providing a healthy and safe environment for their citizens, and the global economy shrank as a result of the severe slowdown in growth rates.
“The pandemic cast a shadow over commercial arbitration, and the arbitration cases filed before arbitration centres threatened a complete halt and the loss of the rights of their parties,” he said.
Sheikh Thani said it was necessary to adapt to the new reality of visual arbitration, respecting the rules of social distancing, and complying with the restrictions placed on freedom of movement and travel.
He said global and Arab arbitration centres and institutions, as well as in GCC states, have been operating at full capacity remotely and have issued instructions regarding the modern online and audio technologies that arbitral tribunals can use in implementing arbitration procedures based on the rules of arbitration centres.
Sheikh Thani said international arbitration centres have prepared a set of principles and guidelines on the method of preparing to conduct hearing and pleading sessions remotely and simulating traditional arbitration sessions in which parties meet face to face, their legal representatives, and members of the arbitration board.
The Korean Commercial Arbitration Board was the first to issue the Seoul Protocol on the conduct of virtual arbitration sessions after the outbreak of Covid-19. This was followed by the issuance of dozens of similar protocols or guidelines, Sheikh Thani said.
“However, arbitration bodies should adopt, approve, or oblige the parties to this development and modernisation only after referring to the legal texts to determine whether or not remote hearing sessions can be held by explaining the extent of the powers that the arbitral tribunal has in conducting the procedures,” he added.
On his part, lawyer and international arbitrator Dr. Hassan Radhi said that the exceptional circumstances imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the precautionary measures applied by world countries have prevented the holding of arbitration sessions, either due to social distancing measures or restrictions on travel, noting that experts describe that these circumstances as force majeure.
He indicated that if the parties do not agree to hold the arbitration sessions online, the arbitrator may take measures to ensure the progress of the arbitration process under the current exceptional circumstances.
Dr. Hassan Arab, the partner and Regional Head of Dispute Resolution at Al Tamimi & Company law firm, noted that Gulf countries succeeded in using online arbitration thanks to their sophisticated digital infrastructure.
The webinar issued many recommendations including the expansion of using more secured electronic communication platforms in holding online arbitration sessions, setting up a regulatory framework for the requirements that must be met in online arbitration, and amending arbitration rules to keep pace with technological developments.
Further, it recommended providing the necessary training on modern technologies and explanatory means to raise the awareness of their importance.
It also recommended the need to issue a special cyber protocol for procedural conditions for online arbitration, stressing that all parties of the arbitration process and members of the arbitral tribunal must abide by this protocol.