COVID-19 has encouraged change within dispute resolution community, says ACICA

The centre sees the necessary adoption of technology as the future for the sector

COVID-19 has encouraged change within dispute resolution community, says ACICA

The COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged change within the dispute resolution community, said the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (ACICA).

“COVID-19 has posed many challenges to the fair and efficient resolution of commercial disputes. New disputes have arisen specifically from the economic and social impacts of the crisis and other disputes have suffered delays before the courts as a result of social distancing restrictions,” ACICA Secretary-General Deborah Tomkinson told Australasian Lawyer.

The centre expects to see a “serious flow-on effect in terms of delayed proceedings before the courts,” she said. Thus, alternative means must be considered in order to resolve matters.

Nonetheless, Tomkinson believes the nature of arbitration is in itself conducive to managing the effect of the pandemic.

“Arbitration is well placed to manage the impact given its inherent flexibility and the control that parties have over the process, enabling them to manage a dispute efficiently and appropriately to the circumstances of the case,” she said. “The climate created by the pandemic is “at the very least encouraging—and in some respects, forcing—change upon the dispute resolution community.”

Tomkinson said she had observed great strides in the transition of arbitration and hearings online as a result of movement restrictions and social distancing measures. 

“Steps are also being taken to use technology to improve the process for disputants,” she said.

In March, the international dispute resolution institution, like the majority of legal bodies, responded to the pandemic by moving to a remote-work setup. ACICA’s case management team has been fully operational, coordinating with users via email and telephone. The institution has also provided a number of resources related to online arbitration on its website.

“From mid-March, the secretariat has been working to usual office hours but remotely, with a focus on providing an uninterrupted service to parties in dispute,” Tomkinson said.

This included adopting technologies like e-filing so that cases can be filed online, and transitioning their educational seminar program into a webinar format. ACICA has also been using software like Microsoft Teams and Remote Desktop to “maintain a streamlined online working environment that mirrors the usual in-person operation of the secretariat,” Tomkinson said.

“This time should be viewed as a great opportunity for the dispute resolution community to embrace new technologies and the advantages that they can provide to parties in dispute in terms of time and cost management,” Tomkinson said. “Making this the new normal should have a positive impact on the manner in which disputes are managed and neutralise the distance between parties, their counsel and the tribunal when engaged in international or domestic arbitration in Australia or around the world.”

The ACICA’s Judicial Liaison Committee is working with the courts to develop initiatives to educate the sector on using technology to improve efficiency.

“These [positive developments made during COVID-19] will naturally shape future practices and projects undertaken by ACICA. Given its advantages for increased engagement, the use of online technology is likely to be a permanent feature of ACICA educative initiatives while technological aspects relating to case management are continually developed,” Tomkinson said.

In addition, ACICA has also implemented a 25% discount on case registration fees from 1 May to 31 October, “in recognition of the economic pressures being faced by businesses in Australia at this time,” Tomkinson said.

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