LMAA arbitrators functioning normally during Covid-19 pandemic

Ian Gaunt, President of the LMAA , has written to stakeholders to inform them of some of the measures the LMAA has taken to meet the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said that LMAA arbitrators were functioning normally, mostly working from home. They were accepting appointments and dealing with interlocutory document applications and making awards on documents in the usual way by email.

Courier and postal services were currently functioning satisfactorily. The only real difficulty that had arisen was with oral hearings. “The conventional hearing, where everyone involved assembles in a hearing room will not be possible, at least for the foreseeable future”, said Gaunt.

He noted that conventional hearings were being replaced rapidly by virtual hearings conducted by video link, using well-established technologies. He said that in the experience of LMAA these were “perfectly adequate to enable virtual hearings to take place satisfactorily”.

The Business and Property Courts, which include the Commercial Court, had also made it clear that business would continue with virtual hearings. Arbitration applications and appeals continued to be heard.

The LMAA anticipated that, once the users of London maritime arbitration had developed greater experience of and confidence in such technologies, they might not necessarily see the need to return entirely to the conventional type of hearing and/or would at least wish to use some of the newer techniques to make hearings more streamlined, efficient and cost-effective.

The LMAA has set up a Working Group to address the problems and the opportunities which may arise through the use of this technology, comprising Ian Gaunt (Chairman), Simon Gault (Secretary), Duncan Matthews QC, David Owen QC, Clive Aston, Sarra Kay, Daniella Horton and Damian Hickman. It will meet regularly during the current crisis and thereafter also continue to consider other technologies which may assist in the efficient conduct of LMAA arbitrations.

Its initial role is to develop and put into effect the LMAA’s response to Covid-19, and, in that context, to preserve London’s pre-eminence as a centre for maritime arbitration. In particular it will consider and provide to the LMAA guidance on the arrangements for the conduct of virtual hearings. It will also, in due course, consider other proposals for the further use of information technology in the efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly conduct of London maritime arbitration.

Thus far the LMAA working group has:

1. pursued a dialogue with the IDRC and Opus2 to provide the video link and bundling services necessary to conduct a virtual hearing. LMAA said that this was by no means to the exclusion of other providers of such services, but to ensure that there was a service provider ready and able to support virtual hearings in an effective manner.

2. explored alternative methods (which may be particularly suited for lower value claims, applications and directions hearings) such as Zoom, which appears to provide adequate video link, including breakout room facilities.

3. recommended the use of the Seoul Protocol on Video Conferencing in International Arbitration, until with the benefit of more experience in practice the LMAA can as necessary develop its own protocol for use in LMAA arbitrations. It envisaged that this would ultimately become a schedule to the LMAA Terms.

4. encouraged and helped its members to acquire the software, hardware and skills necessary to conduct a virtual hearing.

5. investigated the range of support services available to assist in the preparation of electronic bundles at the lower end of complexity, where electronic bundles might not have been envisaged for the hearing, but for the intervention of Covid-19, and their absence might otherwise create impediments to a virtual hearing.