The Coronavirus pandemic, also known as COVID-19, has brought the world economy to a standstill. Many service sectors and corporations all over the world, including the Middle East, have been affected. This has caused most parts of the world to go under lockdown; this has changed how we do business and interact with others. This has also affected the way arbitration is done.
The impact on arbitration is real, and it’s felt across the board every day. It has been reshaping onshore arbitrations and those in the judicial free zones. This has happened because of the unforeseen distraction by the virus on local and international travel.
Arbitration is an alternative method of settling disputes outside the court of law. It’s cheaper and convenient for people who don’t want to incur the cost, delay, and conflict. The parties in dispute choose their arbitrators.
Arbitration hearings take fewer hours than other trials, and the records and opinions are not released to the public. Arbitration has several principles; for instance, it is consensual. This process can only happen when both parties agree to it.
Arbitration is supposed to be neutral; this includes a common language, law, and venue. This leaves no ground for the advantage of one party. This is a confidential process, and the decision of the arbitrators is final and easy to follow.
COVID-19 and Arbitration in the Middle East
COVID-19 has changed how we do many things, including arbitration in the Middle East. Here are some of the impacts of this virus on arbitration;
The complete lockdown brought by the novel Coronavirus has old ways of arbitration almost useless. Arbitrators, witnesses, and arbitrating parties cannot travel long or short distances to the chosen hearing destinations agreed by the tribunal and the parties.
The lockdown has also made it impossible for arbitrators to gather for collegiate deliberation to accelerate the sharing of procedural orders. It is also difficult to prepare for rendering final or jurisdictional awards. Arbitrators also face many challenges, such as the in-person ward signing and delivering awards to the chosen arbitration centers for the involved parties to be notified. For example, many stakeholders, such as arbitration institutions, are in total lockdown, which impacts arbitration.
This COVID-19 situation requires the involved stakeholders to change how they operate. A reputable law firm in Dubai will quickly adapt to the changing times to ensure that it continues offering its services flawlessly. This way, the interaction between parties and tribunals is now done online as face-to-face meetings have become risky and infectious.
Telecommunication networks in the Middle East are well-developed and allow individuals to use electronic platforms. This allows the proceedings of a virtual case to take place without the witnesses, parties, and tribunal members meeting in one place.
There are several arbitration centers with state-of-the-art hearing amenities ideal for hosting meetings and remote hearings when parties, witnesses, and arbitrators cannot meet. The risk of contracting COVID-19 will see more submissions of electronic evidence, pleadings, and trial. This will increase the use of virtual hearing venues and AI in all stages of the arbitration process.
Covid-19 has transformed how we handle cases; for instance, courts will be sensitized on the use of innovative strategies to administer oaths such as video conferencing. Courts do this to comply with the current stipulated requirements of the laws of evidence, which apply to expert witness and taking facts in this region. These procedures will garner support from regional arbitration laws.
Article 13 UAE Federal Arbitration Law states that hearings can be held via modern means of communication without the need for the physical presence of the involved parties. Article 35 of the UAE Federal Arbitration Law states that the arbitral tribunal can question witnesses, inclusive of expert witnesses, via modern means of communication if they are not physically present at the hearing. Expert witnesses and other witnesses can be questioned using telecommunication devices like video conferencing with the need for their physical presence.
The complete lockdown caused by COVID-19 has boosted the use of digital technology in arbitration cases. This means that the overall requirements for formalizing the physical process of arbitration awards will be relaxed, and we will rely on electronic signatures. The UAE Federal Arbitration Law allows the use of electronic signatures by the arbitral tribunal members outside the venue of arbitration.
Some arbitration centers in the region have started welcoming electronically-signed awards. Several regional arbitration laws extend their notice requirements; this allows involved parties to send any arbitration-related documents via email.
No doubt, COVID-19 has turned our lives around, including how we do business and conduct arbitration hearings. Although it has caused a lot of grief, this virus has forced us to rely on technology, which allows us to communicate with other people despite the geographical differences.