A revised and updated version of the International Bar Association Rules for the Taking of Evidence in International Arbitration (“Revised Rules”) is moving rapidly toward formal adoption by the IBA. The draft was published for comment several weeks ago and the comment period ended June 1.
This is the first of perhaps several commentaries on particular aspects of the Revised Rules.
An important new feature of the Revised Rules concerns the contents of the written reports of party-appointed experts. Under the Revised Rules, the Expert Report must contain “a statement of his or her independence from the Parties, their legal advisers and the Arbitral Tribunal.” Further, if the Expert Report has been translated, it shall contain “a statement as to the language in which it was originally prepared, and the language in which the Party-Appointed Expert anticipates giving testimony at the Evidentiary Hearing.”
The phrasing here concerning independence seems carefully calculated to encourage but not require that the party-appointed Expert should actually be “independent” in the same sense that an arbitrator must be. It also appears intended to encourage but not require fairly extensive disclosure by the Expert of his or her prior business or personal relationships with the parties, their counsel, and members of the Arbitral Tribunal.
It remains up to the parties and their counsel who select their experts to bear whatever credibility risks might be associated with a conclusory or qualified statement of independence, or with a less than fulsome disclosure of past relationships with the appointing party and its counsel.
The new requirement on translation may help to expose the role of counsel in the preparation of the Expert Report, especially where, as is often the case in investor-State arbitrations, English-speaking investor counsel may have to rely heavily on experts in legal and economic aspects of a State whose official language is not English and whose professional ranks are not generally bi-lingual.
These new aspects of the rule on Expert Reports highlight for arbitrators some options to streamline proceedings. For example, a Tribunal might inform the parties that it elects not to allow Document Requests for documents concerning the Expert’s relationships with the appointing party and its counsel. In conjunction with taking that position, the tribunal might announce that it will place considerable weight on the Expert’s declaration of independence when it comes time to decide whether the conclusions drawn by the Expert are entirely objective. Cross-examination for bias will tend to be more limited if document production on this subject is off limits.
But the Tribunal can make clear to the parties, at the preliminary hearing or terms of reference stage, that with this limitation on effective cross-examination for expert bias comes a corresponding duty of full disclosure, the absence of which may lead to adverse inferences about the Expert’s objectivity.
It may be that large law firms will continue to use as experts large economics consulting firms to whom they have turned for help on many prior occasions. Compliance by such firms with the new statement of independence requirement is likely to reveal in many cases that the consulting firm has had prior engagements for opposing counsel as well. Such firms thrive because their opinions are respected for objectivity notwithstanding that they may have worked in the past for the same law firm in its representation of other clients.
Thus it remains to be seen whether a new standard of independence for party-appointed experts will emerge, by which the expert is expected to have the same degree of independence as an arbitrator. But the required statements concerning independence and translation, if heeded by the parties and used effectively by the tribunal, can prevent the issue of possible expert bias from becoming a time-consuming sideshow in an already difficult case.
It is important here to take note of the path not taken in these relatively modest steps concerning the independence of party-appointed experts. In September 2007, the Chartered Instutute of Arbitrators (“CIArb”) had issued a “Protocol for the Use of Party-Appointed Expert Witnesses in International Arbitration,” prepared by its Practices and Standards Committee.
The CIArb Protocol urged what some might argue to be a laudable but unrealistic model for party-engaged expertise: that the role of the party-appointed expert should be to assist the Tribunal, by objective analysis, rather than to advocate the position of the party that appointed her. In line with that mission, the CIArb Protocol requires that the Expert Report include a Declaration, in the specific language of Article 8 of the Protocol, and most notably:
“(a) I understand that my duty in giving evidence in this arbitration is to assist the arbitral tribunal decide the issues in respect of which expert evidence is adduced. I have complied with, and will continue to comply with, that duty.
(b) I confirm that this is my own, impartial, objective, unbiased opinion which has not been influenced by the pressures of the dispute resolution process or by any party to the arbitration.”
It merits note that in mandating such a declaration, the CIArb Protocol went further in regulating the expert’s conduct than did the 2005 UK Civil Justice Council’s Protocol for the Instruction of Experts to Give Evidence in Civil Claims (“CJC Protocol”). Article 4 of the CJC Protocol (maintained in the October 2009 updating) declares that experts have a “duty to help the court” that “overrides any obligation to the person instructing or paying them.” And the same Article exhorts experts to “provide opinions which are independent, regardless of the pressures of litigation.” But the CJC Protocol did not propose specific declarations concerning independence as required or even recommended contents of the expert’s written report.
Here I cannot resist a “war story” that is instructive. Some 20 years ago, as counsel to a US company in an ICC arbitration against its Italian supplier, there was a serious question whether the choice of law clause called for, in the circumstances, application of Italian law or the law of New York. I submitted expert opinions on each potentially applicable body of law. The New York law expert, a retired judge of the state’s highest court, recived and edited drafts of his opinion that had been prepared by counsel. The Italian law expert, a professor in Milan, refused to even meet with me to discuss the case, on the basis that he did not wish for his objectivity to be impaired by the advocacy I would presumably introduce into our discussions. This message was conveyed on the day I arrived in Milan for our scheduled meeting. Instead, I enjoyed a sunny late winter day on the ski slopes in Courmayeur. The professor’s opinion was a model of clarity and elegance — in its original Italian and in translation — and it significantly advanced my client’s case.
One can imagine that lawyers with common law training and experience within the IBA Rules working group expressed concern about the constraints on counsel-expert interaction that could arise from imposing such a declaration requirement on party-appointed experts. The IBA Rule strikes a balance by injecting independence as a laudable objective for party-appointed experts, but without legislating independence criteria that would require advocates from different legal cultures to conform their conduct to a uniform transnational standard.
May I submit that there is one aspect of expertise that needs to be aproached with some care? Firstly, most, if not all commercial arbitration (and adjudication) is about fact. Secondly, where the issues are technical, each party may require expert assistance not only in preparation but also in presentation.
There is a strong argument for experts whose role is that of adjunct ‘counsel’, presenting technical argument and questioning both witnesses of opinion and of fact. Inevitably, when scientists and technicians do adopt this adjunctive role, they will be constrained by the objectivity inherent in their formation. They will not have the luxury of the legal advocate’s ‘licence’, itself difficlt to define.
It will be important for technicians to distinguish clearly the role of a witness af any kind, whoever pays, from this role of a technical advisor to the legal team (and possibly technical advocate).
Whether one and the same person can act in both roles is a matter for debate. I should declare an interest; I have done so. It was ncessary to make it clear what was offered as evidence and what argument. The tribunal was aware when I was performing which duty. Desirable? I an not sure.