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Party autonomy and justice in international commercial arbitration

Moses Oruaze Dickson (Department of Law, University of Bedfordshire, Luton, UK)

International Journal of Law and Management

ISSN: 1754-243X

Article publication date: 12 February 2018

2122

Abstract

Purpose

Party autonomy is a core tenet of the arbitral process which bestows certain contractual freedoms upon the disputing parties. This paper aims to utilise both doctrinal analysis and theoretical conceptualisation to examine the principle of party autonomy in international commercial arbitration. It examines the extent to which certain exceptions to this principle, such as public policy and natural justice, where autonomy impedes on matters of justice and delocalisation, have restricted the principle in practice.

Design/methodology/approach

Party autonomy is a core tenet of the arbitral process, which bestows certain contractual freedoms upon the disputing parties. However, in spite of its appeal as an unfettered right, it has been challenged by an array of exceptions that have rendered it largely unqualified in international commercial arbitration. This paper utilises both doctrinal analysis and theoretical conceptualisation to examine the principle of party autonomy in international commercial arbitration. It examines the extent to which certain exceptions to this principle, such as public policy and natural justice, where autonomy impedes on matters of justice and delocalisation, have restricted the principle in practice. Furthermore, approaches to party autonomy in two distinct legal systems, the Common law system in England and Sharia law in Saudi Arabia, are examined to ascertain the extent to which party autonomy has been hindered by these exceptions.

Findings

Arbitration continued to grow throughout the forgone centuries, with key philosophers, such as Aristotle, advocating the advantages of arbitration over litigation. In addition, the emergence of party autonomy occurred in the sixteenth century, with Dumoulin proposing that the parties’ will in contracts is sovereign. Thus, party autonomy began to develop into a significant aspect of contract law, which plays a pivotal role in arbitration. This is because the principle has its roots in the autonomous will of the parties to conduct the arbitral process as they wish. The paper explored the debate regarding party autonomy and its development into the contemporary world of arbitration. It examined its origins and how it has grown into the core fabric of arbitration today. Emphasis was provided in relation to the nature of the principle, which was highly relevant to the debate. This is because it is vital to appreciate issues such as freedom of contract to have a deeper insight into the principle and what it entails. The limitations of party autonomy were extensively examined, and the public policy exception was found to construe narrowly by a vast number of States. As a result, it was suggested that the exception should be more than merely a theoretical defence. Thus, it should be exercised where enforcement of an arbitral award would disregard unjust or improper results. Furthermore, the natural justice principle was observed as a double-edged sword that protected the parties in the arbitral process. However, it also hampered the effectiveness of party autonomy by impeding upon the parties’ freedom to contract, which ultimately limited the principle. Thus, it is concluded that the principle of party autonomy is not absolute. While it would be desirable if it was, certain issues cannot be resolved so easily. Limitations to party autonomy have existed since its inception and are most likely to continue. Although this is not the ideal situation for proponents of autonomy, it nevertheless appears to be the case. However, it is proposed that limitations to party autonomy should be chipped away as much as possible. This would enable the autonomy of the parties to be upheld at a much higher rate.

Originality/value

This paper utilises both doctrinal analysis and theoretical conceptualisation to examine the principle of party autonomy in international commercial arbitration. Secondary sources were also used.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to thank Dr Chrispas Nyombi for his unyielding support through this work. The author also wishes to thank Mrs Anita Oruaze Dickson and Grace Oruaze Dickson for their encouragement through all seasons.

This work is dedicated to my mother Mrs Goldcoast Dickson, who took the pains to build the lifetime values in me, and His Excellency, Hon. Seriake Dickson for his fatherly guidance.

Citation

Dickson, M.O. (2018), "Party autonomy and justice in international commercial arbitration", International Journal of Law and Management, Vol. 60 No. 1, pp. 114-134. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJLMA-12-2016-0184

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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