The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Arbitration Rules were adopted in 1976, and have been both broadly used and widely praised as simple and straightforward. Remarkably, in 34 years they have not been revised – until now. Revisions were finally approved this summer, and arbitration agreements concluded after August 15, 2010 and referring to the UNCITRAL Rules are presumed to refer to these revised rules, unless the parties otherwise agree. Given the length of time since they were first introduced, significant revisions might have been expected. But in testament to their basic soundness, many of the revisions are little more than tweaks.
The revisions serve three basic purposes. First, they fill in a few holes that have become apparent over the years. Second, some provisions are added to expedite the arbitration process—like adding a requirement that the tribunal establish a “provisional timetable for the arbitration.” Finally, they update the original rules to account for changes in technology. This recap is from front to back, not in order of significance. Some of the most significant changes are noted at the end, so read on!
Notices and Other Communications
The 1976 Rules (Article 2) required notices to be physically delivered, while the 2010 Rules provide that notices and other communications “may be transmitted by any means of communication that provides or allows for a record of its transmission.” E-mails and facsimiles are subject to two special rules. First, the communication is deemed received only if sent to a person specifically designated for receiving such communications. Second, they are deemed received on the day sent, except for a notice of demand for arbitration, which is deemed received on the day it reaches the recipient’s electronic address. Accordingly, you may wish to add a line to your UNCITRAL arbitration clause to designate an individual for receipt of a notice of arbitration, in addition to designating the place and language of the arbitration.
While Article 3 setting out the requirements for a notice of arbitration did not change, a new provision was added clarifying that the constitution of the arbitral tribunal will not be hindered by any controversy about the sufficiency of the notice, and giving the tribunal jurisdiction over such controversies.
Response to the Notice of Arbitration
A response to the notice of arbitration was not previously required, and Article 19 simply required the respondent to provide a statement of defense by a date determined by the tribunal. Article 4 of the 2010 Rules now requires the respondent to respond within 30 days of receipt of the notice of arbitration, with the response to include the name and contact details of each respondent, and any response to the items in the notice regarding the arbitration agreement, the relevant contract, the claimant’s description of its claim and requested remedy, and proposal with respect to the number of arbitrators.
The response may also include any objections to jurisdiction, a brief description of any counterclaims, and a notice of arbitration with respect to other parties to the agreement (beyond claimant). As the language is permissive instead of mandatory, it appears that counterclaims or crossclaims are permitted but not compulsory.
The Appointing Authority
The 1976 Rules contemplate the parties designating an Appointing Authority to assist with the appointment of arbitrators and any challenges to arbitral appointments. The procedures for determining an Appointing Authority are consolidated in Article 6 of the 2010 Rules with a few modifications. The new rules reduce the amount of time one must wait before making a request that the Secretary-General of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague resolve disputes regarding the Appointing Authority — from 60 days to 30 days. Additionally, asking the PCA to act as the Appointing Authority is now expressly permitted.
The Number of Arbitrators
The 2010 Rules retain the default position of having three arbitrators if the parties fail to agree on use of a sole arbitrator. However, Article 7.2 now provides more flexibility by allowing the Appointing Authority to appoint a sole arbitrator if one of the parties asks for this, or either party fails to appoint a second arbitrator and using just one is “more appropriate” under the circumstances of the case.
The 2010 Rules add two innovations. First, a new annex provides a model statement of independence to be provided by proposed arbitrators. Second, a schedule is added for resolving any challenges (the original rules had a deadline for raising a challenge but no timetable for resolution). Per the new Rules, if the appointing party does not agree to the challenge, or the challenged arbitrator does not withdraw, in either case within 15 days, then the challenging party has 30 days from the date of the challenge to pursue it with the Appointing Authority, and otherwise it is waived.
Article 16 of the new Rules adds a waiver of liability for the arbitrators “save for intentional wrongdoing.” This waiver also applies to the Appointing Authority and to experts appointed by the panel.
Article 17.5 now permits the tribunal to allow other parties to the arbitration agreement to be joined, unless the third party would be prejudiced by joinder. This is a significant advance over the prior rules that were silent on the subject.
The 2010 Rules attempt to address the problem of excessive fees by requiring that the fees be reasonable, requiring the arbitrators to explain how they have fixed the fees and costs, and allowing the parties to appeal the fees and costs to the Appointing Authority. Previously, the tribunal members set their own fees, and there was no real provision for oversight, since UNCITRAL arbitration is non-administered. This addresses one of the most common criticisms of non-administered arbitrations generally.