Exploring Fairness in International Arbitration: Highlights from the Italian Arbitration Day  

The international arbitration community recently converged in Milan for the second edition of the Italian Arbitration Day (IAD), organized by the Milan Arbitration Chamber (CAM) and the Italian Arbitration Association (AIA). The event brought together approximately 200 professionals, experts, academics, corporate lawyers, and attorneys from 15 different countries. This year’s focus was on the crucial concept of fairness in international arbitration.  

Stefano Azzali, General Director of the Milan Arbitration Chamber, highlighted the significance of Milan as an economic and financial hub, emphasizing that arbitration speaks the language of businesses. He noted the growing trust in arbitration, with an 8.4% increase in arbitration applications at CAM over three years and a 20% surge in international arbitration applications in just a few months. Azzali emphasized that the recent arbitration regulatory reform plays a pivotal role in increasing international operators’ confidence in choosing Italy as a favorable venue for arbitration proceedings.  

One of the notable features of this edition was the innovative “reverse debate” format, moderated by Michael Mcilwrath and Michael Polkinghorne, where speakers posed questions to the audience, aiming to establish common ground among experts in both common law and civil law jurisdictions regarding the practical applications of fairness. Throughout the event, phrases like “fairness is fundamental” “difference between fairness and due process”, “arbitrators must show courage and spine”, “how robust are arbitrators with the element of procedure?” and “we are looking for finality” resonated with participants.  

Event speakers included: Toby Landau, Emilia Onyema, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Yas Banifatemi, Pedro Arcoverde, Erica Stein, Giuditta Cordero-Moss, Herbert Kronke, Juan FernandezArmesto and Luca Radicati.

Erica Stein, representing the IBA Arbitration Committee, commented on the vagueness and subjectivity of the fairness concept and its dependence on facts & circumstances of each case. She highlighted how fairness is influenced by individual subjective views and how some arbitrators come to international arbitration with their national hats on. Stein also stressed the importance of establishing objective standards and noted that parties should feel comfortable relying on these standards.  

Acting as Media Partner, Legalcommunity had the opportunity to speak to a number of attending lawyers including Prof. Dr. Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Founding Partner at Egyptian law firm Zulficar & Partners and a speaker at the event, who shared insights on the concept of fairness in the MENA region. He highlighted the influence of diverse legal systems and the prevailing culture in determining what is considered fair procedurally and substantively. Abdel Wahab explained that while arbitral awards are generally not reviewed on their merits, the focus in the region is often on procedural fairness and due process as defined by court judgments.  

When addressing the global notion of fairness, Abdel Wahab emphasized the consensus across jurisdictions that fairness is required, serving as the minimum common denominator. However, he noted that the interpretation of what is fair can vary depending on jurisdiction-specific approaches, evolving judicial trends, and arbitrators’ and users’ perceptions in a given case.  

The issue of transparency in maintaining procedural fairness was discussed with one of the event attendees, Chiraz Abid, a lawyer specializing in Construction and Arbitration at ADVANT Altana and a Lecturer of Arbitration Law at L’EFB. Abid emphasized the importance of arbitrators revealing conflicts of interest promptly and the publication of awards to promote transparency. She also suggested issuing guidelines and organizing workshops to stress the rule of transparency within the community of practitioners.  

The second edition of the Italian Arbitration Day showcased the ongoing efforts to establish common standards and promote transparency in the field, emphasizing the importance of fairness in building trust and ensuring the effectiveness of international arbitration proceedings.