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Arbitration still seen as the best process for resolving international disputes, even in times of pandemic

International arbitration is overwhelmingly the favoured option for dispute resolution, according to the International Arbitration Survey published by Queen Mary University of London.

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Arbitration is viewed as the favoured form of international dispute resolution
Arbitration is viewed as the favoured form of international dispute resolution

The School of International Arbitration has launched the results of its twelfth major empirical International Arbitration Survey and the fifth edition in partnership with international law firm White and Case LLP.

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented challenges for the entire world - the arbitration sector was no exception. The 2021 International Arbitration Survey, Adapting Arbitration to a Changing World, explores how international arbitration adapted to these changing demands and circumstances. More than 1,200 respondents participated in the survey, the widest pool of respondents to date.

Arbitration favoured in times of pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented challenges for world of arbitration, but has failed to dampen its popularity when it comes to dispute resolution choices. For 90 per cent of respondents, international arbitration was the favoured option, either on a stand-alone basis (31 per cent) or in conjunction with ADR (59 per cent).

The five most preferred seats for arbitration are London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris and Geneva. Technology continues to be widely used in international arbitration, particularly the use of videoconferencing and digital hearing room technologies, and this has increased during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. 79 per cent of respondents would choose a virtual hearing over postponement with only 16 per cent opting for this. 

The results also show that respondents welcomed adaptations to the world of arbitration including greater support for the process by local courts and judiciary as well as increased neutrality and impartiality of the local legal system. Respondents chose “administrative/logistical support for virtual hearings” as their top choice adaptation that would make other sets of arbitration rules or arbitral institutions more attractive, followed by “commitment to a more diverse pool of arbitrators.”

Arbitration users would be most willing to do without “unlimited length of written submissions”, “oral hearings on procedural issues” and “document production” if this would make their arbitrations cheaper or faster.

Progress on diversity 

More than half of respondents agree that progress has been made in terms of gender diversity on arbitral tribunals over the past three years. However, less than a third of respondents believe there has been progress in respect of geographic, age, cultural and, particularly, ethnic diversity.

Whilst respondents recognised the environmental benefits of remote participation rather than in-person activity, this is not the primary motivation behind the decision as to whether interactions should be conducted remotely.  

Norah Gallagher, Deputy Director School of International Arbitration said: “We are delighted to present the findings of the 2021 International Arbitration Survey on ‘Adapting arbitration to a changing world’. It was not easy to conduct a survey during a global pandemic. The results are an interesting snapshot of some rapid changes implemented in challenging times.

"It was a pleasure to work so closely with Dr Maria Fanou White & Case Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and the White & Case team to draft this survey to best reflect the data collected. We hope it will be useful to the arbitration community when considering potential changes to arbitral practice.”

Abby Cohen Smutny, Global Head of the International Arbitration Practice Group, White & Case, said: “The field of international arbitration is dynamic by nature. Its hallmarks of flexibility and party autonomy allow it to develop and adapt in response to the needs of its users. Recent times have seen an increased focus on drivers of change such as diversity, technology, environmental considerations and information security.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also presented challenges to the way in which the international arbitration community interacts, with virtual hearings, conferences and meetings with counsel, clients and teams becoming the norm almost overnight.”

About Queen Mary's School of International Arbitration

The School of International Arbitration (SIA) was established in 1985 within the Centre for Commercial Law Studies (CCLS) at Queen Mary University of London. The School is the global leading postgraduate teaching and research centre in international dispute resolution.

As a centre of excellence for research and teaching of international dispute resolution, it attracts some of the best students globally with an interest in arbitration each year. Many of its graduates are now successfully practicing arbitration around the world as advocates, in-house counsel, academics and arbitrators. Others serve international organisations, including UNCITRAL, the World Bank and UNCTAD, or work for major arbitration institutions. To learn more about SIA, visit the website

More information

The research for this study was conducted from October 2020 to March 2021 by the School of International Arbitration at Queen Mary University of London and was conducted in two phases, first quantitative and the second qualitative.

Phase one comprised an online questionnaire of 31 questions completed by 1218 between 8 October 2020 and 21 December 2020.

Read the report on the website of the School of International Arbitration.

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