Governments around the globe continue to battle the outbreak of COVID-19. As the virus continues to spread at an alarming rate and countries are being put on lock-down, restricting travel and social contact, economies are still trying to operate as normal as best as they are able.
That includes the administration of justice, civil and criminal.
There are many popular arbitral forums worldwide which are currently hearing a significant number of international arbitrations. Typically such arbitrations involve parties, legal and technical representatives and Arbitrators from different countries and require parties to travel long distances to participate in hearings.
In an effort to protect the health of parties involved in on-going arbitrations, and to prevent a stand-still in proceedings, organisations including the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) have turned to video-conferencing to assist in the conduct of hearings. This technology, readily available through many arbitration providers, allows proceedings to be conducted remotely, with participants joining hearings via a live-stream. The need to reduce our carbon foot-prints is also relevant to this debate.
In recent years, the use of video technology in legal proceedings has seen a sharp increase, particularly as the availability of “online dispute resolution” methods becomes more widespread.
Other organisations and Court jurisdictions have made similar moves. For example, the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) will only deal with matters by email, with all applications, documents etc. being transmitted electronically. The ICC International Court of Arbitration has postponed or cancelled hearings and other meetings scheduled to take place at the ICC Hearing Centre in Paris until 13 April 2020 with other meetings to take place via video conference.
Also, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) Courts, have announced that all staff will be working remotely and the Courts will be physically closed until 26 April 2020, with all hearings to take place via telephone conference.
Video and telephone hearings have several benefits over their “in-person” counterparts, not least in the time and expense they save in avoiding the need for international travel as well as promoting the public health initiatives being adopted worldwide. They also have their downsides, particularly in ensuring all those participating have access to the technology needed.
With both lawyers and clients becoming increasingly technologically savvy, it seems likely that the use of video-conferencing in international arbitrations will continue to grow once the world returns to normality.