Summary of SOAS Arbitration Public Seminar of 28th February 2019
The penultimate SOAS Arbitration Public Seminar for this academic year was held on 28 th February 2019 at SOAS, University of London. It was organised and chaired by Dr Emilia Onyema. We welcomed Ms. Eunice Shang-Simpson, MCIArb, Founder of Shangress International (Consultancy) Ltd and former Specialist Prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service, as our guest speaker. She critically discussed the participation of African States in the work of UNCITRAL (United Nations Commission on International Trade Law).
She set the scene by introducing UNCITRAL, a subsidiary body of the General Assembly of the UN which deals with the laws applicable to private parties in international transactions. UNCITRAL has sixty States Members, with five regional groups represented in the Commission including the African States group.
The presentation continued with an introduction of Working Group III (WG III), which commenced its work in November 2017 in Vienna. This is a group tasked by the UNCITRAL Commission to deal with the possible reform of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) regime. She discussed WG III’s three stage mandate, which is: (1) to identify and consider concerns regarding ISDS; (2) consider whether reform is desirable in light of any identified concerns; and (3) if the Working Group were to conclude that reform was desirable, develop any relevant solutions to be recommended to the Commission.
Next, Ms. Shang-Simpson addressed the concerns raised by African States in the first stage of the mandate which took place during the 34 th and 35 th sessions. Most notably, she drew attention to the high costs of ISDS that are paid with public funds – a difficult justification for developing States with scarce financial resources. In the second stage, during the 36 th session, WG III concluded that the development of reforms by UNCITRAL was desirable to address the concerns relating to three broad categories, namely those pertaining to lack of consistency, coherence, predictability and correctness of arbitral decisions by ISDS tribunals; those pertaining to arbitrators and decision makers; and those pertaining to cost and duration of ISDS cases.
She explained that the next stage will take place in April 2019 in New York, where WG III will consider any concerns that were not addressed due to lack of time, as well as the issue of third-party funding. Governments are encouraged to consult and submit written proposals for the development of a workplan in time for the next session.
Ms. Shang-Simpson concluded her presentation with suggestions on how African States can ensure that their voices are heard clearly in the ongoing debate. She recommended that they engage actively with the process, both as States Members and Observers, that they apply to the UNCITRAL trust fund if needed, for travel assistance to ensure their attendance, that they form collaborative alliances, and that they lead by example in instructing suitably qualified African arbitrators to address the issue of lack of diversity.
Ms. Shang-Simpson’s presentation was very well received judging by the quality of the Questions and Answers and animated discussions that followed during the drinks reception. The drinks reception was kindly sponsored by Dr Emilia Onyema and organised by Ms. Ancuta Faur and Ms. Anna Csepanyi, President and Alumni Relations Director of the SOAS Law Society, respectively.
Our final seminar in the series will be held on Thursday 28 th March 2019. We will welcome Mr. Solomon Ebere, Senior Associate at Omnia Strategy LLP who will discuss the involvement of Small States in international arbitration and the costs in international arbitration.
This summary is produced by Ms. Ancuta Faur (SOAS, LLB; Student in the Law of Commercial Arbitration Module).