“The Interface of Inquests and Consumer Law and Policy: 2021 NSW Coronial Inquest Findings into the 2017 Death of a Honda Driver from a Takata Airbag”

Abstract: A coronial inquest is an inquisitorial fact-finding investigation into causes and manner of deaths that are eg violent, unusual, or from unknown causes. The coroner may also make recommendations to improve health and safety related to the death investigated.[1] Sometimes such inquests attract considerable media and public attention, although usually not as much as say a royal or other commission of inquiry. As such, inquests could influence the implementation or enactment of consumer product safety law. Yet there is very little research into this interface. An interesting recent case study comes from a New South Wales coronial inquest over 2019-2021 into a tragic death in July 2017 associated with Australia’s largest-ever vehicle recall, which uncovered poor practices by the manufacturer (Honda Australia) as well as the regulators.

The recall ultimately involved 3 million vehicles in Australia originally affected due to defective airbags manufactured by Japanese firm Takata, which started to explode and kill or injure drivers abroad from 2015 and ended up being subjected to a mandatory recall order issued in February 2018 by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). By March 2021 the ACCC reported that these 3 million vehicles had been successfully recalled by manufacturers, although: “around 312,000 vehicles have been deemed to be compliant with the recall although they have not had their airbags replaced … vehicles which have been scrapped, stolen or unregistered for more than two years, or where consumers did not respond or were not contactable after repeated contacts through different channels. Globally, these Takata airbags have been associated with over 350 serious injuries and 33 deaths. This includes one death in Sydney in July 2017 and one serious injury in Darwin in April 2017. Two injuries were also reported following an accident in Sydney in August 2020.”[2]

Many problems had been increasingly highlighted by local media and consumer experts or groups[3] concerning the Takata airbag recalls process in Australia. There were also some media reports towards the start[4] and during some hearings[5] of the NSW coronial inquest into the death of Mr Huy Neng Ngo in July 2017, killed by a Takata airbag that had still not been replaced by Honda Australia.[6] Curiously, however, there has been almost no media reporting of the findings and recommendations for avoiding further deaths, released on 19 November 2021 by NSW Deputy Coroner, Magistrate E. Truscott.[7] I became aware of the extensive report recently as I had been asked by the NSW Crown Solicitors’ Office in mid-2019 to provide a witness statement to the inquest. Essentially, the report finds that the specialist regulator (DIRD transport ministry) but also the ACCC were rather asleep at the wheel in scrutinising Honda Australia’s inadequate recall notices sent out from 2015 until his death. Regulators should have done more and earlier, partly due to failures in inter-agency coordination. They and Honda Australia only seem to have started lifting their game after Mr Ngo’s death, the first in Australia.

* * *

After submitting my written statement, I was not called for oral examination at the inquest. However, the inquest findings (at pp149-53) show how I had alerted senior ACCC officials back in late 2015 that Honda Australia was sending out recall notices that I considered misleading by only referring vaguely to a “precautionary” recall and without highlighting the serious risks, even though by that stage some like myself knew that Takata airbags had caused multiple injuries and deaths abroad. (By chance, I had been following the Takata recall saga abroad as part of my longstanding research in comparative consumer product safety law and practice, and had purchased a second-hand Honda so when I got these recall letters from Honda Australia I realised they were problematic.) The deputy coroner noted eg (at p188-9):

“… The content of the consumer recall letters at least until March 2017 effectively failed to convey to the consumer the importance of the need to replace the airbag. The recall strategy failed to bring to the attention of the consumer the risk or danger that the airbag posed. That this approach continued well past the publication of the Blomquist report and that none of Honda Australia, DIRD or the ACCC sought to widen the recall strategy at this time is regrettable. Moreover, as already discussed at paragraphs [256]-[286], it is regrettable that Honda Australia, which had the primary responsibility for its voluntary campaign, did not identify that it should change its consumer recall letter and strategy well before March 2017.

645. It was a failure that the ACCC did not itself or seek DIRD to intervene in Honda Australia’s campaign approach when the opportunity arose, such as in 2015 with the NRMA and Professor Nottage communications or indeed [from 2016] in the Takata Airbag Working Group meetings.”

It was only a month after Mr Ngo’s death from the exploding Honda airbag that (pp 202-203):

“… in August 2017 the ACCC reviewed manufacturers’ language in recall notices on the PSA website, as well as more broadly in consumer communications, and took steps to develop model language to be used in connection with voluntary recall measures for Takata airbags. Although, at this point, there was not yet any compulsory recall on foot, Mr Grimwade [from the ACCC] said that “we took it upon ourselves to ensure that the language on our website was reflecting the risks as we understood them, and as they were emerging in the investigation”. Mr Grimwade accepted that ACCC officers could have, prior to 13 July 2017, usefully exchanged views in relation to the text to be used in Takata recall notices, in the manner in which they did in August 2017. He agreed that this “should have been done”.

688. Mr Grimwade’s expression that the ACCC took it upon themselves to conduct this review is somewhat odd given that he said there was no lack of clarity by the ACCC as to whose responsibility the PSA [Product Safety Australia] website was – the ACCC had sole responsibility for it at all times.

689. That the 5ZV recall used the term “precautionary” in its language on the website in the first place but continued to do up until this review is concerning as there were numerous occasions which should have or at least could have given the ACCC cause to conduct such a review, namely: (i) the 2015 NRMA letter; (ii) the late 2015 Professor Nottage correspondence; (iii) the Blomquist report [for US regulators] and NHTS orders in May 2016; (iv) the April 2017 injury causing the Toyota misdeployment in the Northern Territory together with (v) the ACCC participation in the Takata Airbags Working Group meetings from June 2016 and (vi) its close working relationship with DIRD.

690. On 5 August 2017, following receipt of responses from affected vehicle suppliers, the Minister for Small Business, Michael McCormack, issued a “Safety Warning Notice to the Public” under s 129(1) of the ACL, regarding possible risks of using motor vehicles containing Takata airbags.1037 The Safety Warning Notice warned of possible risks involved in the use of motor vehicles containing Takata airbags supplied in Australia, urged consumers to check whether their vehicle had been included in a product safety recall and advised that the ACCC was investigating whether vehicles with Takata airbags will or may cause injury.1038 Mr Grimwade advised that the purpose of a safety warning notice such as this is to “bring attention to a particular hazard through the [M]inister” and that “used sparingly… they can get quite a lot of publicity and indicate the views of government in relation to a particular hazard”.1039

691. Mr Grimwade accepted that there was an opportunity, prior to 13 July 2017, for the Minister to issue a Safety Warning Notice – such as that ultimately issued on 5 August 2017 – in respect of the risks posed in relation to the voluntary recalls of Takata airbags.1040 He accepted that there was a missed opportunity on the part of the ACCC, prior to 13 July 2017, to make a recommendation to the Minister to issue a safety warning notice in relation to the Takata airbag recalls.1041

692. If the ACCC was waiting for a risk to materialise to justify a sparingly used strategy to bring to public attention the need to respond to a recall of Takata airbags, the most obvious time that the ACCC should have approached the Minister to issue a Safety Warning Notice was in April 2017 following the Northern Territory injury.”

Some more specific findings by the deputy coroner were as follows:

1. Was there a lack of clarity and substantial confusion between ACCC and DIRD as to their respective roles in the monitoring of the Takata airbags voluntary recalls generally and specifically in regard to the 5ZV recall

Essentially yes, in that eg despite an inter-agency MoU “the ACCC did not know that DIRD did not have any process of its own in regard to the suppliers’ recall strategies nor did it know that the suppliers were not submitting their recall strategies to DIRD” (para 727). Furthermore (at p219), the coroner did not accept:

“the ACCC submissions that the ACCC had no basis to challenge or question Honda Australia’s description of the defect, hazard and risk contained in the 5ZV recall notification. It should have sought to clarify whether the defect would have the same effect and risk as other Takata airbag defects – namely the “inflator rupture causing metal fragments” to strike a vehicle occupant. Without clarifying whether the 5ZV recall involved the same hazard as then known to exist with the previous recalls, given there was no evidence suggesting that there was some other hazard, it would seem that the ACCC, DIRD and the suppliers proceeded on the basis that it was the same hazard but because the recall was classified as “precautionary” or “preventative” the hazard wasn’t appropriately described. That it was not clarified or corrected resulted in a failure to ensure that the public was adequately warned of the dangers of the defective airbags. Likewise, as previously discussed, Honda Australia failed to make due inquiry with Honda Japan in this regard though appeared to be aware that Honda Japan was using the terms preventative and precautionary as discussed above.

734. Counsel Assisting’s phrase of “lack of clarity” or “substantial confusion” is a measured term and the submissions advanced by DIRD and the ACCC demonstrate rather than diminish the disparity between the ACCC and DIRD as to their understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities when there is ample evidence that such disparity existed.”

3. Should DIRD and the ACCC have directly raised with Honda Australia that its consumer recall letters should not include tentative language such as “preventative measure” and “precautionary action” and that the letters did not clearly refer to the nature of the defect and the risk of death or injury in 2015 and 2016.

4. Should DIRD have sought from Honda Australia the 5ZV consumer recall letters.

Again, yes (p 211):

“… DIRD should have obtained at least one of the 5ZV recall letters by following up the request made in August 2015 or preferably by specifically making a new request for the 5ZV recall. Had DIRD received the 5ZV recall consumer letter/s, it appears unlikely that DIRD would have identified and taken action in respect of the issues which were concerning to Professor Nottage in late 2015 or indeed Mr Thomas in mid-2015 in relation to the letter he received for his own Honda vehicle. Those issues should have identified and been formally raised with Honda Australia. Again, whether DIRD would have done so had it obtained a copy of the 5ZV consumer letter is questionable given its position as to DIRD’s limited role and function. At the least it should have identified that the defect and risk were inadequately described in that it did not mention that metal fragments could cause injury or death to a vehicle occupant.

741. Likewise, the issues raised by Professor Nottage in 2015 should have been formally raised with Honda Australia by the ACCC or by DIRD at the request of the ACCC. There was no process in place for DIRD to be tasked with raising it directly with Honda Australia. Raising it generically in a TAWG meeting was, in the circumstances, inadequate.”

5. Should, prior to July 2017, the ACCC and/or DIRD have taken steps to publicise the risks posed by defective Takata airbags by way of its own media announcement or by co-ordinating a media campaign with the industry.

Yes (at p222-3), with the deputy coroner accepting:

“counsel for the ACCC and DIRD’s submissions that it was for the suppliers to co-ordinate and promote an advertising campaign, and though the ACCC and DIRD could encourage a wider campaign, neither agency had power to compel one. However, rather than adopting a reactive media posture which on one view could be thought to resemble a reluctance to publicise the Takata recalls, both agencies could have adopted a pro-active media posture on their own accord as well as encouraging industry, and in this case Honda Australia specifically, to engage in a public campaign.

749. Whilst the recall was voluntary and neither agency had powers to compel the industry to adopt such a strategy (in the absence of any compulsory recall then having been commenced), a supplier’s refusal or failure to engage in such a campaign strategy could have been an escalation criteria [sic] by which the agencies could measure the progress of the recall, and which may have motivated industry to engage in such a campaign. Advertising campaign aside, the MOU allowed for the joint settling of media releases issued by the ACCC or DIRD. The only media release that was prepared related to what would be issued in the event of a misdeployment event, rather than considering how the government could bring the recalls to the attention of the Australian public, for the sake of the public safety, in advance of any such incident. As Professor Nottage wrote to Mr Ridgeway at the ACCC at the end of 2015, a government media release incurred no cost. There is no good reason why DIRD and the ACCC failed to issue such a release. Likewise, there was no good reason why Honda Australia failed to do so, particularly given the scale of the recall. 

8. If the ACCC or DIRD had not missed the opportunities to bring the defect and risk of the Takata airbag to public notice, is it likely the Ngo/Chea vehicle airbag would have been replaced earlier thus preventing Mr Ngo’s death

Yes (pp225-6):

“…Ms Chea and her family did not know about the Takata airbag recall and when in March Ms Chea did learn of it having collected the registered letter, she had, within the week, booked the vehicle into Peter Warren’s service department for recall replacement. Had she learned of the defect earlier, it would appear that she would have made an earlier appointment. Likewise, had Julie Ngo been aware of the risk of the defective airbag she would have likely insisted that it be replaced on 11 July 2017. Whilst it is not possible to conclude that any action or inaction of the government agencies did contribute to Mr Ngo’s death, it is likewise not possible to conclude any action or inaction on their part did not contribute to Mr Ngo’s death.

757. Counsel for DIRD point out that Ms Chea says that she only received the March 2017 letter. That is the one she responded to. That letter had a clearer content consistent with the Blomquist Report and correctly identified the defect, hazard and risk. Had that information been contained in an earlier letter and received by Ms Chea or a family member then it is likely the Vehicle would have been booked in at an earlier time. Had there been public announcements then other persons who had received the earlier letters may have been able to identify the importance of the recall and brought it to Ms Chea’s attention.

758. As is apparent from the foregoing responses, I agree with the position advanced by Counsel Assisting. I make the finding that due to a lack of clarity and at times substantial confusion as to the respective roles of DIRD and the ACCC, together with the lack of a documented escalation process against which to monitor and advance the progress of the recall, the ACCC and DIRD inadequately administered and monitored the Takata Airbag voluntary recalls during the period July 2015 to July 2017. The inadequacy particularly arose in that there was a failure to ensure that the defect and hazard of the Takata airbag subject to the Honda Australia 5ZV recall was properly described to the Australian public on the ACCC’s PSA website, in the Honda Australia letters to consumers, or by Australian public media broadcasts in a timely and adequate manner.”

In conclusion, the deputy coroner added multiple recommendations for better monitoring of vehicle recalls in future (p226 et seq), in the context of some legislative reforms already underway.

* * *

Despite these quite critical findings and recommendations in November 2021, as of early May 2022 there seem to be no Australian newspaper reports on them, although there was some other Takata airbag fatality news in mid-2021.[8] Perhaps the lack of mainstream Australian media reporting on the inquest findings is because Mr Ngo’s death is sadly considered “old news”, and other fatalities or accidents are more widespread or vivid (especially after several years of deaths and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic). Yet it seems important that government officials and regulatory systems are held to account, and that lessons are learned and communicated from careful inquiries like inquests in order to improve consumer product safety law and practice.

Indeed, an article published online on 9 December 2021 by a smaller journalistic outlet reported that a former ACCC official allegedly lost his job in 2018 after some of his concerns went public that the Commission was not doing enough about the Takata recall:[9]

“… Three years ago an anonymous Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) official was frogmarched out of his office — and later threatened with criminal action — after internal emails became public via a television exposé on the Takata airbag scandal.

The official was concerned the ACCC had not reacted quickly enough on the threat to public safety of the potentially deadly airbags and used its powers only after a driver was killed by shrapnel from an exploding airbag which penetrated his neck, causing him to bleed to death.

Now a coroner’s hearing has confirmed that many of the official’s warnings were on the mark. 

For one thing it means the official feels confident about revealing his identity. His name is Dean Wright. He held a senior executive level position as assistant director of the ACCC’s product safety branch and he was 52 at the time.”

“I am entirely comfortable with what I did,” Wright told Crikey. “I felt I had no choice.

“I don’t regret my part in revealing the truth about the years of dithering. I’d like to believe that the coronial court’s recommendations will save lives and prevent further horrific injuries.”

Does he feel he is owed an apology? 

“Yes. That would be the right thing to do, but more to the point the ACCC owes the public an apology for not being truthful.”

The ACCC said it did not propose to comment on Wright’s “actions or opinions”. It also said it had “identified and implemented a number of lessons drawn from the inquest” before the coroner’s report was released and was working on others.”

Meanwhile, perhaps in the light of the inquest, a class action brought in the NSW Supreme Court against Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Nissan, Mazda and BMW reached a mediated settlement in September 2021 for A$52m (including $15m for the plaintiffs’ lawyers!). A specialist media outlet report noted furthermore that:[10]

“In August, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched legal action against Mercedes-Benz, accusing it of minimising the risk of serious injury of death from the faulty Takata products. The ACCC alleges Mercedes-Benz staff downplayed the risks “on at least 73 occasions,” stating the recall was precautionary in nature and “there had been no incidents, accidents, injuries or deaths … at all,” despite there already having been one fatality in Australia at that time and one serious injury recorded.”

The saga therefore continues, so there may still be scope for the wider public to learn what really went on from the Takata airbag debacle, and the lessons that can be drawn more generally for consumer law and policy in Australia and beyond. There have been longstanding concerns particularly about Australia’s lack of clarity and impact of the law on recalls (and mandatory accident reporting) and insufficient coordination or leadership from the ACCC and state/territory regulators vis-a-vis specialist regulators (as pointed out eg in 2013, prompted by a problem reported regarding Volkswagen – even before its fake diesel emissions disclosure scandal).



[1] For background into the NSW law and practice around appearing in coronial inquests, see eg https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwiBzo2WzdH3AhUiyzgGHT86AZUQFnoECAQQAQ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww5.austlii.edu.au%2Fau%2Fjournals%2FNSWBarAssocNews%2F2014%2F12.pdf&usg=AOvVaw30yvr7BIPzuS0Gx25wPu3D

[2] https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/car-manufacturers-complete-999-per-cent-of-takata-airbag-recall

[3] See eg https://www.choice.com.au/transport/cars/general/articles/unprecendented-mandatory-recall-takata-airbags-280218

[4] https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/nsw-inquest-into-death-of-sydney-driver-to-examine-takata-airbag-risks/n4kk69rs4 and https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-23/faulty-takata-airbag-coroner-inquiry-death-cabramatta-man/11538628

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/22/regulators-knew-of-two-takata-accidents-before-a-sydney-mans-death-inquest-told

[6] https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/faulty-airbag-at-centre-of-recall-to-blame-for-death-of-sydney-man-20170721-gxg5yj.html

[7]  https://coroners.nsw.gov.au/coroners-court/download.html/documents/findings/2021/Inquest_into_the_death_of_Huy_Neng_Ngo_-_Findings.pdf via https://coroners.nsw.gov.au.

[8] https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au › nsw › news-story: 3 June 2021 — “The ACCC has found a third Australian was killed by a Takata airbag, raising questions about why there was not a coronial inquest.”

[9] https://www.crikey.com.au/2021/12/09/accc-whistleblower-vindicated-steps-out-of-shadows/

[10] https://www.whichcar.com.au/car-news/takata-lawsuits-in-nsw-settled-by-major-car-companies-for-52-million

Japan: Sustainable Corporate Governance and ‘Gradual Transformation’

[ANJeL Program Convenor Prof Souichirou Kozuka and I have written a shorter chapter on Japan for the 5th edition of Principles of Contemporary Corporate Governance (by Jean Jacques du Plessis, Anil Hargovan and Jason Harris): see our longer manuscript version reproduced here for the 4th edition published by Cambridge University Press in 2018). As indicated in the introduction below, we pay particular attention to the hot topic internationally of ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors in corporate activity and investment, highlighting changes and (mostly) continuities in the corporate governance system behind Japan’s rapid uptake of ESG and sustainable or responsible investment.]

Japan developed vibrant commercial activity domestically towards the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate era (1603-1867), when it largely closed itself off to the world. As the country re-opened and expanded industrialisation over the Meiji Era (1868-1912), codifications and legal institutions were introduced following the European civil law tradition. Stock exchanges were established and investment grew into often family-owned companies, resulting in considerable emphasis on shareholder primacy before World War II.

However, after the US-led Allied Occupation (1946-51) until at least the 1980s, Japan became renowned for its stakeholder approach to corporate governance. More emphasis was placed on the interests and roles of employees (especially those in “lifelong employment”), creditors (especially “main banks”) and key suppliers or corporate customers (including in “keiretsu” corporate groups, and/or involving significant cross-shareholdings). These three practices influencing corporate governance, only loosely underpinned by relevant legislation, started to unravel after an asset bubble collapsed and Japan entered a “lost decade” of economic stagnation from the 1990s. Growing foreign investment into the Japanese stock market also supported a “gradual transformation” toward more shareholder primacy. This has involved some more protection for minority shareholders, and partial shifts towards a “monitoring” rather than executive board especially in listed companies (as elaborated in Part 11.2 of our new chapter).

The transformation since the 1990s has been reinforced by the creation of a new legislative regime (Part 11.3) and more recent “soft law” Codes for corporate governance and engagement or stewardship by institutional investors (Part II.4). Japan has experienced three major waves in the development of corporate law, at roughly half-century intervals. The Meiji-era Commercial Code enacted around the turn of the 20th century was followed by US-inspired reforms during the post-war Occupation, then much more wide-ranging reforms from around the turn of the 21st century prompted by Japan’s economic slowdown. Even in terms of formal legislative changes, the trajectory has not been one of straightforward ‘Americanisation’, and the overall position now reached is also very different from US law, as evidenced by the partial persistence of the statutory auditor governance structure inspired by German law. Also evident are some influences from – or at least parallels with – aspects of English law. These are epitomised recently in listing requirements, including a ‘comply or explain’ Corporate Governance Code since 2015, and an earlier tendency in takeover regulation to give priority to decisions of shareholders over those of directors. The impact of German law, filtered sometimes nowadays through EU law, remains important too. Japan’s complex corporate law landscape is also influenced by  the three distinctive features of post-War corporate governance practice mentioned above, even though they too have been undergoing gradual transformations.

Much discussion has emerged recently also around ESG issues for investors and managers in Japan, as in many other jurisdictions with large securities markets (Part II.5). A key question is whether this means even-greater shareholder primacy, as foreign institutional investors in particular pushed for further ESG initiatives from Japanese firms, or whether it marks their return towards more stakeholder-based corporate governance. The answer is important for predicting likely future directions (Part II.6).

Developing Diversity within Diversity Discourse: Remembering Non-Lawyers in Arbitration, in Asia and Beyond

This is the title of a presentation (Powerpoints in PDF here) for the 28-29 May 2022 19th ASLI Asian Law Conference, hosted this year by the University of Tokyo, based on an empirical study by myself, ANJeL-in-ASEAN convenor Asst Prof Nobumichi Teramura, and USydney research assistant James Tanna. It adds some directly Asia-related data to the analysis presented in a forthcoming chapter in Shahla Ali, Giorgio Colombo et al (eds) Sustainable Diversity in International Arbitration (Elgar, mid-late 2022), with a longer paper available via SSRN and a posting summarising key empirical findings via Kluwer Arbitration Blog.

Our presentation for ASLI also suggests that given the relative influence still of law professors in developing international arbitration in Asian states, particularly perhaps those more influenced by the civil law tradition, the large and growing dominance of full-time lawyers across the field may have a significant indirect impact on international arbitration in Asia.

Presentation Abstract: This paper, co-authored with Asst Prof Nobumichi Teramura (UBrunei) and James Tanna (USydney), highlights a curious lack of diversity within the proliferating discourse about the lack of diversity in international arbitration. There is hardly any awareness or at least sustained discussion about limited diversity of professional backgrounds, and more specifically the dominance nowadays of those with practising lawyer positions or primary careers – including more recently in Asia – across the key groups and publication outlets for international arbitration. Yet this encroachment of lawyers was still being contested in the 1990s, as being linked to burgeoning costs and delays, and such “formalisation” has been re-emerging in recent years. Diversifying the world of international arbitration to involve more non-lawyers, including academics, could promote various other objectives too, and thus enhance the legitimacy and sustainability of international arbitration.

This paper therefore analyses empirically the ways lawyers have come to dominate key nodes of influence within the world of international arbitration. We examine this worldwide and in the Asian region, thus also giving a sense of geographical diversity. Part I looks at lawyers in key general associations or organisations promoting international arbitration, including their leadership and presenters at symposiums. Part II focuses on various arbitration centres globally and regionally, which actually administer cases. Part III examines contributions to some key arbitration journals (including the Asian International Arbitration Journal), an influential book series, and a widely-read Blog. The conclusion reiterates that restoring more non-lawyers in the world of international arbitration should help not only to reduce formalisation and inefficiencies in international arbitration, but also have various other salutary effects, including potentially improving gender diversity.

Corruption and Illegality in Asian Investment Arbitration

Written by: Asst Prof Nobumichi Teramura (UBD-IAS, CAPLUS affiliate) and Luke Nottage

[Updates: I have co-authored draft introductory and Thailand chapters for this book project proposed with Springer, and will present them at an invitation-only webinar for book contributors hosted by UBrunei on 15 June 2022, as well as at Griffith University’s Law Futures Centre on 21 July 2022.]

The Institute of Asian Studies at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD-IAS) has recently funded a conference volume project on this important topic, involving several professors from the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney (CAPLUS).

Bribery and other serious illegal behaviour by foreign investors are widely condemned in any society. The problem is that people seem not to have reached a consensus on the consequences of corruption and illegality in international investment and especially in investment arbitration – a transnational procedure to resolve disputes between a foreign investor and a host state. A core issue is whether a foreign investor who violated a host state’s law would be awarded protection of its investment, as per its contract with the host state and/or the applicable trade or investment agreement between the home state and the host state. Some suggest such protection would be unnecessary, as the investor committed a crime in the host state, while others attempt to establish an equilibrium between the investor and the host state. Some others claim to protect investment, invoking the sanctity of promises made. This research explores ‘Asian’ approaches toward the issue, considering the extent to which significant states in Asia are likely to become ‘rule makers’ rather than ‘rule takers’ regarding corruption and serious illegality in investor-state arbitration. To this end, we will employ a comparative method, inviting scholars from the Asia-Pacific region, including UBD-IAS and other institutions.

The Principal Investigator is Dr Nobumichi Teramura, the Co-Principal Investigator is Assoc Prof Bruno Jetin (UBD-IAS Director), Luke Nottage (appointed also now a Visiting Professor at UBD) is another contributor and the others are listed below. Many have previously worked together on related Asia-focused projects, notably their co-edited volume with Shahla Ali on New Frontiers in Asia-Pacific International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution (Wolters Kluwer 2021) and Luke Nottage’s book co-edited with Julien Chaisse on Investment Treaties and International Arbitration Across Asia (Brill, 2018; expanding on country reports from a 2017 JWIT special issue on ASEAN with Prof Sakda Thanitcul as joint special editor and supported by the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre).

This new project’s primary purpose is to examine Asian approaches and case studies regarding corruption and serious illegality in international investment arbitration. It focuses on corruption-related disputes between private parties and public sector entities. It also covers other serious illegal conduct by foreign investors  related to or broadly equivalent to corruption and bribery, including serious non-compliance with key provisions of national laws regulating the admission or operation of foreign investment.

Regional free trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP Agreement) mandate member states to combat corruption and other illegal conduct. However, they remain silent on how specifically to deal with public-private disputes arising from corruption and illegality. Trade and investment law experts have become well aware of the problem, and some suggest treaty reforms even at a global level. Against this backdrop, the research aims to accumulate Asian perspectives, for Asia to build the foundation of leading the next rounds of treaty reforms. In particular, it intends to address the following questions:

  1. Whether Asia has been and will remain ‘ambivalent’ about international law prohibiting corruption and illegality. How have Asian countries been combatting corruption and other illegal activities particularly as to foreign investment? What laws and rules exist, and how do they operate in respective jurisdictions? What are the recent developments?
  2. Whether and how Asian countries have dealt with corruption and illegality in relation to foreign investment projects. If they have faced any international investment cases, what are the outcomes and consequences?
  3. Whether Asian countries have been or are more likely to become ‘rule makers’ rather than ‘rule takers’ in international investment law (as explored generally in the Brill and Wolter Kluwers books mentioned above) regarding corruption and illegality.

Those questions will support us to achieve the central objective: to examine Asian approaches toward  corruption and illegality in international investment arbitration. As we enter an age in which Brunei is increasing its engagement with foreign companies, it is probable that there will be disputes that need to be arbitrated, and corruption and illegality in investment arbitration are issues which other countries in the region are already facing. This research project will help the Bruneian authorities and the academic community, and counterparts in other Asia-Pacific jurisdictions as well as further afield especially when engaging with this region, learn more about such topical issues and potential counter-measures.

More specific expected outcomes include:

  1. One international online research workshop in mid 2022 and one international symposium in early 2023 (depending on pandemic travel restrictions), both in Brunei, for the contributors to present their papers and exchange opinions.
  2. An edited volume in the IAS-Springer Book Series on “Asia in Transition” based on the research papers by the contributors. (A further grant will be applied for to assist with related copy-editing etc, and CAPLUS interns and other Sydney Law School resources will assist particularly with the chapters authored by CAPLUS members.)
  3. A journal article co-authored by Professor Nottage, A/Professor Jetin and Dr Teramura for a Q1 Scopus journal.

Contributors based at UBD:

Name and FICsDescription of contribution
Dr Nobumichi TERAMURA (UBD-IAS)Principal Investigator – general editor and author of chapters for the edited volume in the IAS-UBD “Asia in Transition” series
Associate Professor Bruno Jetin (UBD-IAS)Co-Principal Investigator – general editor and author of chapters for the edited volume in the IAS-UBD “Asia in Transition” series
Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Indera Negara Pengiran Anak Haji Puteh ibni Al-Marhum Pengiran Pemancha Pengiran Anak Haji Mohamed AlamGeneral contributor (re corruption, investment, arbitration and the Asia-Pacific) and author of the forewords of the edited volume
Professor Ahmed Masood Khalid (UBD-SBE)Contributor (re business and corruption)
Dr Masairol Bin Haji Masri (UBD-SBE)Contributor (re business and corruption)
Dr Hammeed Abayomi Al-Ameen (UBD-SBE)Contributor (re business law and corruption)

Other Contributors:

Professor Luke NottageUniversity of Sydney, Australia (CAPLUS Associate Director); UBD (visiting professor)Co-organiser – general editor and author of chapters for the edited volume in the IAS-UBD “Asia in Transition” series
Dr Colin Ong QCArbitration Association of Brunei Darussalam; and Colin Ong Legal ServiceContributor (re standard of proof for corruption allegations)
Professor Sakda ThanitculFaculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University, ThailandContributor (re Thailand)
Professor Sirilaksana KhomanFaculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University; National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), ThailandContributor (re Thailand)
Mr Antony CrockettHerbert Smith Freehills, Hong KongContributor (re Indonesia)
Professor Simon ButtUniversity of Sydney (CAPLUS Co-Director)Contributor (re Indonesia)
Professor Romesh WeeramantryNational University of Singapore; Clifford ChanceContributor (re Lao Republic)
Justice Anselmo ReyesSingapore International Commercial CourtContributor (re corruption regulations for economic warfare)
Professor Vivienne BathUniversity of Sydney (former CAPLUS Director)Contributor (re China and Hong Kong)
Professor Joongi KimYonsei Law School, South KoreaContributor (re South Korea)
Professor Dai TamadaKyoto University, JapanContributor (re Japan)
Dr Prabhash RanjanSouth Asian University, IndiaContributor (re India)
Dr Martin JarrettMax Planck Institute, Heidelberg, GermanyContributor (re general investment law and investor misconduct)
Professor Tim LindseyUniversity of Melbourne, AustraliaContributor (re Indonesia)
Dr Jocelyn CruzDe La Salle University, the PhilippinesContributor (re the Philippines)

Publications and Webinars on Asia-Pacific arbitration and ISDS

On 23 March 2022 Kyoto University awarded Luke Nottage an LLD by publications for his book of selected/updated and some new essays on International Commercial and Investor-State Arbitration: Australia and Japan in Regional and Global Contexts (Elgar, 2021). In addition, a Transnational Dispute Management report of (Young-OGEMID listserv) Q&A about the book was published in February 2022.

On 2 March 2022 Prof Luke Nottage joined Dr Michael Hwang SC (Singapore), Neil Kaplan CBE QC SBS (Hong Kong), Hafez Virjee (Paris) for a public webinar entitled “Between Theory and Practice”, discussing the development of international arbitration particularly in the Asia-Pacific region and the place of Australian practitioners in this global market: watch the recording here. The webinar also discussed the benefits of pursuing international arbitration as an elective course, in the context of the large range of international arbitration materials made available to Sydney Law School students and staff through the Delos Dispute Resolution platform thanks to a subscription donated by Dr Hwang.

On 25 February Luke Nottage was interviewed for a podcast recording by a Bosnia-based association for arbitration, discussing the hot topic of transparency vs confidentiality particular in investor-state dispute resolution. Below is the outline of key points discussed.

In addition, Luke Nottage spoke on ISDS and investment treaties at the UoW Transnational Law and Policy Centre‘s co-hosted symposium on topics being negotiated in the Australia-India FTA (recording here), focusing on mandatory mediation before investors arbitrate disputes, and was then invited to speak on ISDS reform more generally for a symposium hosted by the Indian government’s Centre for Trade and Investment Law.

Some of Luke Nottage’s related recent publications include an overview chapter for a new book on the Asian Turn in Foreign Investment, an econometric analysis of ISDS-backed treaties on FDI flows, international arbitration and society at large (in the new Cambridge Compendium), professional diversity in international arbitration, and a review forthcoming in the Australian Law Journal of a new book on International and Australian Commercial Arbitration.

* * *

25 February 2022 webinar on Transparency in ISDS:

  • Pros and cons of transparency in international arbitration generally?
    • Fewer costs and delays in procedures and award-writing if procedure limited to the parties/counsel and arbitrators, not wider public
    • vs leads to more info asymetries in this market for services (arbitrators, especially lawyers, even expert witnesses) hence potential costs and delays: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2987674
    • If diminishing net cost savings, even in intl commercial arbitration, less attractive balance from rule of law perspective, undermining legitimacy of international arbitration compared to (more public) litigation – see (Menon CJ article, quoted in my JoIA article on ACICA Rules 2021 https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3931086: incidentally, those don’t relax confidentiality but do require disclosure of third-party funders)
    • Especially in investor-state arbitration, given its inherent greater public interests, and growing media attention (and polarisation)
  • Current regime:
    • Already considerable (surprising) transparency in ISA re awards (2/3): https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3227401 **
    • ICC Rules (mostly an ICA org, occasionally ISA): no confidentiality imposed on parties
    • ICSID Convention / Rules (2/3 of ISA cases): likewise, but eg „shall promptly“ publish „excerpts of legal reasoning“ in awards, need consent of parties for full award (or leak!)
    • Ad hoc arb UNCITRAL Rules (eg 2010): likewise, can publish awards if parties consent, arbitrator discretion re other transparency (eg Philip Morris v Australia procedural order)
      • Revised 2013 for transparency in all treaty-based arbs, then 2014 Mauritius Convention to extend transparency to pre-2014 treaties (whether UNCITRAL or other Rules)
  • The recent amendments of investment arbitration rules (most notably ICSID) and dispute resolution clauses in IIAs [eg] to allow third-party submissions.
    •  ICSID already in 2006 had amended its Rules for Convention and AF cases to somewhat expand confidentiality – https://icsid.worldbank.org/resources/rules-and-regulations/amendments/about
    • Recently decided further ICSID Rules revisions (since late 2016) align AF Rules (which also now can be adopted even without any party being member of the ICSID Convention) with expansive transparency across all stages as in UNCITRAL Rules; plus for ICSID (Convention states) Arb Rules eg at https://icsid.worldbank.org/resources/rules-amendments
      • [Proposed Rule 62] Automatic publication of award if 60 days pass and no objection lodged by a party (cf earlier debate that such „deemed consent“ too incompatible with Convention, which would need to be then amended but too many member states!)
      • [Rule 63] Publish excerpts of legal reasoning re decisions other than awards, eg on jurisdiction (eg recently under Australia-Egypt BIT: do treaties providing that a host state „shall“ consent to ISA provide advance consent to that procedure? Earlier see my https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2424987)
      • [Rule 64] publish other docs lodged (eg party submission) also if agreed by parties or tribunal discretion / weighing
      • [Rule 65] shall allow non-parties to attend hearings (and publish transcript or recording) unless a party objects
      • [Rule 66] but subject to redaction etc for „confidential information“ (listed types below)
      • [Rule 67] expanded provisions so tribunals MAY allow submissions etc by „non-disputing parties“ eg amicus curiae – text below bolded
      • [Rule 68] provisions so tribunals SHALL allow „non-disputing treaty parties“
  • Tension between the transparency concerns expressed by the States in the context of ISDS and the lack of actual application of the transparency rules in practice. 
    • Yet only 9 ratifications of Mauritius Convention, few of the big players (eg Canada 2016, Switzerland 2017, Australia 2020 alongside review of old BITs – but no public report!): lose control / treaty negotiating leverage? Prefer incorporating tailored regime in treaties, anyway need to do so (Rules options provided, and/or amendments) for post-2014 treaties as Mauritius Convention doesn’t apply to those
    • Some host states have been reticent about too much transparency, including in treaty (re)drafting or UNCITRAL reform deliberations: exposes their (even alleged) poor governance (hence many investors favour transparency, potentially even encouraging settlement: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2065636), impede settlement (only partly empirically justified? ** and see further Ubilava at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3352181), more costs and delays (arguments over exceptions to transparency: Prof Zachary Douglas at https://www.claytonutz.com/ialecture/previous-lectures/2020)
  • Impact of legal tradition and culture on the approach to transparency in ISDS?
    • Less determined by say civil vs common law tradition, more eg socialist law / governance (eg Vietnam etc haven’t even ratified ICSID Convention, Chinese treatise were slow to incorporate much transparency) or developing country status (eg India?)
    • Culture might have some (small) impact: surveys etc show Eastern parties / counsel see confidentiality as advantage over litigation compared to Western, more generally think of eg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Farewell_(2019_film) ?
  • Possible solutions to the improvement of transparency, while maintaining the benefits of confidentiality that the parties desire
    • States party should try to agree in treaties in advance
    • or during proceedings (but then host state and investor, and often acrimonious generally)
    • Otherwise, tribunals and counsel need to be aware of the competing interests, pros and cons of transparency (especially for costs and delays) as discussed above, when weighing whether and how to allow disclosures.

New ICSID (Convention) Arbitration Rule 66

Confidential or Protected Information

For the purposes of Rules 62-65, confidential or protected information is information

which is protected from public disclosure:

(a) by the instrument of consent to arbitration;

(b) by the applicable law or applicable rules;

(c) in the case of information of a State party to the dispute, by the law of that State;

(d) in accordance with the orders and decisions of the Tribunal;

(e) by agreement of the parties;

(f) because it constitutes confidential business information or protected personal

information;

(g) because public disclosure would impede law enforcement;

(h) because a State party to the dispute considers that public disclosure would be

contrary to its essential security interests;

(i) because public disclosure would aggravate the dispute between the parties; or

(j) because public disclosure would undermine the integrity of the arbitral process.

Rule 67

Submission of Non-Disputing Parties

(1) Any person or entity that is not a party to the dispute (“non-disputing party”) may

apply for permission to file a written submission in the proceeding. The application

shall be made in the procedural language(s) used in the proceeding.

(2) In determining whether to permit a non-disputing party submission, the Tribunal

shall consider all relevant circumstances, including:

(a) whether the submission would address a matter within the scope of the dispute;

(b) how the submission would assist the Tribunal to determine a factual or legal

issue related to the proceeding by bringing a perspective, particular knowledge

or insight that is different from that of the parties;

(c) whether the non-disputing party has a significant interest in the proceeding;

(d) the identity, activities, organization and ownership of the non-disputing party,

including any direct or indirect affiliation between the non-disputing party, a

party or a non-disputing Treaty Party; and

(e) whether any person or entity will provide the non-disputing party with financial

or other assistance to file the submission.

(3) The parties shall have the right to make observations on whether a non-disputing

party should be permitted to file a written submission in the proceeding and on any

conditions for filing such a submission.

(4) The Tribunal shall ensure that non-disputing party participation does not disrupt the

proceeding or unduly burden or unfairly prejudice either party. To this end, the

Tribunal may impose conditions on the non-disputing party, including with respect

to the format, length, scope or publication of the written submission and the time

limit to file the submission.

(5) The Tribunal shall issue a reasoned decision on whether to permit a non-disputing

party submission within 30 days after the last written submission on the application.

(6) The Tribunal shall provide the non-disputing party with relevant documents filed in

the proceeding, unless either party objects.

(7) If the Tribunal permits a non-disputing party to file a written submission, the parties

shall have the right to make observations on the submission.

** “… around 85% of cases where either the investor or the state have won are fully Public, and almost all the rest are only Partly Confidential. For settled cases, as italicised, 41% are Public or Partly Confidential.  This suggests that minimising costs and delays through early settlement may often be facilitated by keeping the outcome at least partly private, but not necessarily in all situations.”

“International and Australian Commercial Arbitration” – Book Review

[Update: this review will be published in the Australian Law Journal.]

This [new book analysing a field also important to Japan and other Asia-Pacific jurisdictions (LexisNexis, 2022, xii +735pp: ISBN 9780409353075, Paperback $185.)] is an authoritative and comprehensive 640-page commentary on both international and domestic arbitration law in Australia, from two eminent former full-time judges (Clyde Croft and Marilyn Warren) and one early-career academic (Drossos Stamboulakis) all now affiliated with Monash University. It is supplemented first by the text of the International Arbitration Act (IAA)and its first two Schedules, the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (NYC) and the 2006 revised United Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (ML). The book also adds the text of the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules, devised for ad hoc arbitrations but also forming the core of some institutional arbitration rules, as for the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration,[1] whose first edition Rules Croft helped draft (before judicial appointment) drawing on his detailed knowledge of the UNCITRAL Rules.[2] Although these international instruments and legislation are freely available online, it is helpful to have their text appended in this volume, although it must add somewhat to the cost of the paperback or hardback versions.

The volume fills a significant gap in the literature on the comparatively small but lively field of arbitration in Australia. On the last page, as “related LexisNexis titles”, the publisher lists the commentary by Croft and others focused on domestic arbitration,[3] and another by Malcolm Holmes and Chester Brown on the IAA.[4] The present volume is more discursive and principles-based, rather than a section-by-section commentary, and covers domestic and international arbitration in Australia – both centred on the ML regime since 2010. There also exists an edited collection of essays on various aspects of international arbitration law and practice in Australia, including two chapters co-authored by Croft.[5] However, those analyses date back to 2010 (when the most significant amendments were made to the IAA) and include some more normative material (such as suggestions for further reform to legislation and arbitration rules). A more recent new book of selected (mostly updated) essays examines Australia but also compares developments particularly in Japan.[6] That also includes an analysis of investment treaty arbitration, a hybrid field of growing importance in Australia and worldwide, but not covered in the volume presently under review.[7] In short, this important new volume should fill a gap on the bookshelves (or eBook readers) of all those interested in domestic and international commercial arbitration in Australia.

It will be useful for practitioners seeking a clear overview of key principles enacted and applied by courts particularly in the Australian context, as well as university teachers and students of international commercial arbitration. The volume is written in a somewhat hybrid style. Although it is primarily a textbook, it includes sometimes quite lengthy extracts from judgments, making the volume also somewhat like “cases and materials”. These extracts are mainly from Australian case law (sometimes generated by two of the three authors when still serving on the Supreme Court of Victoria, particularly by Croft as he was charged with its Arbitration List), but also from case law particularly in Singapore and Hong Kong. That is very appropriate given the ML core and wider common law tradition shared with both those jurisdictions, and hence their influence on case law and some legislative reform in Australia.[8] Those jurisdictions also attract many more international arbitrations, hence court challenges generating case law on topics that Australian courts have not yet had to canvas or in as much detail. However, the present authors also refer to further crucial resources for correctly interpreting the international instruments and principles in contemporary arbitration. These include especially UNCITRAL documentation, including its Case Law Digest summarising key judgments worldwide, UNCITRAL’s Explanatory Note to ML (eg at pp 76-9).[9]

In coverage, after a Foreword by Robert French (former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia), chapter 1 (pp 1-26) first introduces the “Nature of Arbitration and its Historical Development”. This includes its development in Europe, in England (including Derek Roebuck’s interesting argument that there was no less arbitration activity there in the 18th than early 20th century, undermining somewhat the view that English judges were quite wary and hence interventionist about arbitration from the 19th century), and in colonial Australia. The commentary then contrasts arbitration with other forms of dispute resolution (although the volume barely covers the hot topic of “Arb-Med” or arbitrators actively encouraging settlement), followed by the advantages and disadvantages of arbitration (highlighting advantages, but acknowledging the problem of cost – and, one might add, delays). Chapter 1 ends with a short analysis of “the bases of arbitral and judicial power”, emphasising the centrality of party agreement for arbitration as illustrated in a (quite lengthy) extract from High Court judgment unanimously rejecting a constitutional challenge to the ML regime for enforcing awards.[10] However, the commentary briefly mentions that “arbitral and judicial power may be affected by an exercise of the general sovereign power of the state, although such circumstances are exceptional” (p 26).[11]

Chapter 2 (pp 27-96) turns to the “Australian Approach to Arbitration”, tracking the evolution of arbitration statutes. This included the initiative from Queensland law reformers to update legislation in the early 1970s, prompted by the more pro-arbitration English Arbitration Act 1950, as it seemed “at this time that the Australian courts entertained suspicion, if not a dislike, of arbitration and treated it as an inferior jurisdiction that needed close supervision” (p 29). It was quite surprising to learn of this early intiative, at least for this reviewer immigrating to Australia from 2001, given that other State and federal legislators and courts have arguably been more influential in promoting arbitration in recent decades across Australia.[12] Generally, however, case law developments along with legislative enactments particularly since 2010 do indeed seem to have reduced inconsistencies and some possible “perception that Australian courts hindered effective commercial arbitration by being unduly interventionist in a number of ways” (p 92), not necessarily in accordance with the uniform approach to supporting arbitration promoted by the NYC and ML regimes.[13] Nonetheless, the commentary notes that “[c]ourt rules have tended not to keep pace with the legislative developments facilitating international and domestic arbitration in recent years” (p 93).

The remaining Chapters 3-11 cover the standard “life cycle” of a commercial arbitration filing, proceeding and award enforcement or challenge. Key principles, provisions and case law are clearly set out. Some of the longer extracts from judgments could benefit from paraphrasing or further contextualisation, and could mean that future editions of the book may be needed quite soon. Vexed issues in Australian arbitration law are almost all touched on, although sometimes without much detail or normative assessment of what the law should be. An example is the interaction with the Australian Consumer Law, impacting on many business-to-business transactions, which is gaining in importance for public policy (and hence potential challenge for arbitration agreements and especially awards) as law reformers now suggest adding pecuniary penalties for unfair contract terms and violating mandatory consumer guarantees.[14] In addition, keen readers may like to match up this book’s treatment of vexed issues with recent proposals for further law reform (underpinned by local or foreign case law, ML-based statutes and commentary),[15] assisted by the helpful index (pp 719-35) and Overview of sub-topics at the start of each chapter.

In sum, this book is very much recommended for practitioners, the academic community, and those considering amending rules and legislation around arbitration in Australia.


# Professor of Comparative and Transnational Business Law, University of Sydney Law School; Special Counsel, Williams Trade Law.

[1] Nottage, Luke R. and Dreosti, Julia and Tang, Robert, The ACICA Arbitration Rules 2021: Advancing Australia’s Pro-Arbitration Culture (September 26, 2021). Journal of International Arbitration, 38:6, 2021 (Forthcoming), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3931086

[2] https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/guide-to-the-uncitral-arbitration-rules/DE8790A3707F69031D72729CF6885104

[3] https://store.lexisnexis.com.au/products/australian-commercial-arbitration-2nd-edition-skuaustralian_commercial_arbitration_2nd_edition

[4] https://store.lexisnexis.com.au/categories/practice-area/dispute-resolution-amp-civil-procedure-790/the-international-arbitration-act-1974-a-commentary-3rd-edition-sku9780409348132/details

[5] Chapters 5 (pp103-21) and 7 (pp 137-48) in Nottage and Garnett (eds) International Arbitration in Australia https://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/4975990 (Federation Press, 2010)

[6] https://japaneselaw.sydney.edu.au/2020/08/book-in-press-with-elgar/

[7] Compare also the introduction to the procedural and substantive law principles in investment treaties in a commentary by three Australian authors, https://www.booktopia.com.au/international-commercial-arbitration-simon-greenberg/book/9780521695701.html?source=pla&gclid=Cj0KCQiA9OiPBhCOARIsAI0y71CxTtzSq5mzZYT7CAGcHwJpXlNGUoO2smpLT_3rixw1uEDsMTCb3qUaAnvqEALw_wcB. A new edition of that book is forthcoming from Kluwer, along with national reports on key topics including eg Luke Nottage and Nathan Eastwood, International Commercial Arbitration: An Asia Pacific Perspective – 2021 Australia Report via https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/solutions/kluwerarbitration

[8] Dean Lewis, ‘The Interpretation and Uniformity of the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration: Focusing on Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore’ (Kluwer Law International, 2016); Nottage, Luke R., Deference of Seat or Foreign Courts to International Commercial Arbitration Tribunals Concerning Procedural Issues: Australia in Regional and Global Contexts (January 21, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4013970

[9] With that Note extensively cited in the extract from Subway Systems Australia Pty Ltd v Ireland (2014) 46 VR at 52-6.

[10] TCL Air Conditioner (Zhongshan) Co Ltd v Judges of the Federal Court of Australia (2013) 251 CLR 533 at 566-8.

[11] Citing Minerology Pty Ltd v Western Australia [2021] HCA and Palmer v Western Australia [2021] HCA 31. These disputes involving State legislation nullifying commercial arbitration awards may lead to an international treaty arbitration claim: see Luke Nottage, https://theconversation.com/clive-palmer-versus-western-australia-he-could-survive-a-high-court-loss-if-his-company-is-found-to-be-foreign-145334

[12] For example, Queensland was the second-last jurisdiction in Australia to enact the new uniform Commercial Arbitration Act based instead on the ML (in 2013), and has had some case law on international arbitration attracting criticism from commentators and other courts: see eg Cargill International SA v Peabody Australia Mining Ltd [2010] NSWSC 887.

[13] For more detail on this transition, first in Hong Kong then Singapore, see also Lewis (n 8).

[14] See Treasury, “Strengthening protections against unfair contract terms” at <https://treasury.gov.au/consultation/c2021-201582> and “Improving consumer guarantees and supplier indemnification provisions under the Australian Consumer Law” at <https://treasury.gov.au/consultation/c2021-224294>.

[15] See eg Nottage (2021 Elgar = n 6) pp129-75, updating https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2393232; Monichino, Albert and Teramura, Nobumichi, New Frontiers for International Commercial Arbitration in Australia: Beyond the ‘Lucky Country’ (December 2020). New Frontiers for International Commercial Arbitration in Australia: Beyond the ‘Lucky Country,’ in Luke Nottage, Shahla Ali, Bruno Jetin and Nobumichi Teramura (eds), New Frontiers in Asia-Pacific International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution. Wolters Kluwer (2020), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3946073

Asia-Pacific Online Legal Education Before and After the COVID-19 Pandemic

[Update: video recording on Youtube – click here.]

This 1 February 2022 noon-1.30pm (AEDT) webinar at Sydney Law School discusses how online (university or other) legal education interacts with each jurisdiction’s legal profession, university system, and ICT infrastructure, as well as how online legal education has developed both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic, across several Asia-Pacific jurisdictions: Australia, Japan, Canada, Brunei/Malaysia/Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong. It draws on draft National Reports for an International Academy of Comparative Law conference hosted over 23-28 October 2022 in Asuncion (Paraguay), comparing over 20 jurisdictions worldwide, for a volume to be published by Intersentia co-edited by Professors Luke Nottage and Makoto Ibusuki.

Find out more about the project, including links to several draft reports.

Speakers:
Registration – gratis:

Please click here to register online.

Please click here to register in-person. (There are limited places available to attend this event in-person.)

This event is hosted by the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at Sydney Law School, Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL) and the Transnational Law and Policy Centre at the University of Wollongong.

ANJeL Team Australia runners-up again in Tokyo moot competition!

The cross-institutional Team Australia has put in a great effort to come 2nd overall again at the 20th Intercollegiate Negotiation Competition held (remotely) “in” Tokyo. Pipped by the National University of Singapore, but ahead of the University of Tokyo. Well done also to Chulalongkorn University, where USydney also has close links, for coming fifth overall.

Congratulations to our law students Hasan Mohammad (who also won the ANJeL Akira Kawamura Prize for the Sydney Law School Japanese Law course last semester) and Sarah Tang (completing our International Commercial Arbitration course this semester)!

The teams from Japan and abroad hone and display skills in arbitrating disputes applying the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts, as well as negotiating and documenting a complex cross-border joint venture agreement. Team Australia won the Squire Patton Boggs prize for the best performance in the English-language round (also in 2018, when the Team came first), and won the ANJeL Prize for Teamwork (also won in 2019, when runners-up overall – as in 2020).

Terrific achievement given the extra stresses of lockdowns and other challenges for this year’s Team Australia students, mainly from USydney and ANU, as well as the difficult end-of-year timing. Unlike last year, Team Australia students were unable to meet in Canberra for a training weekend.

Many thanks for support from past mooters / graduates including our Stephen Ke, CAPLUS associate and former SLS RA / tutor Dr Nobumichi Teramura (now Assistant Professor at UBrunei), and especially coach and ANJeL advisor Prof Veronica Taylor from ANU. DFAT has also committed “New Colombo Plan” travel funding that we hope will become available next year so our students can compete in person in Tokyo.

More information can be found at https://www.teamaustralia-inc.net/ and https://www.negocom.jp/eng/.

Guest Blog: The Role of Independent Directors in Contemporary Asia

Written by: Joseph Black (CAPLUS law student intern, 2021)

On 26 October 2021 the Contemporary Asia International Forum Series coordinated a timely panel event entitled ‘The Role of Independent Directors in Contemporary Asia’. The panel was moderated by Dr Edith I Tzu Su, Associate Professor at the National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan, the host institution. The event was supported by the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney. Panelists were Dr Indraijt Dube, Professor of Intellectual Property Law at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur; Dr Anil Hargovan, Associate Professor at the University of New South Wales; Dr Luke Nottage, Professor of Comparative and Transnational Business Law at the University of Sydney; and Dr Chun-Ren Chen, Professor at the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan. We had the opportunity to explore key and original themes: the roles of independent directors in India; the roles of independent directors in Southeast Asia; and more. A few major questions reverberated throughout the session: are independent directors (although not executives or employees) de facto part of a wider managerial team; what are the implications of transplanting non-Asian laws and norms into Asian contexts (with a stronger blockholder tradition even in listed companies) and how are Asian companies distinguished from non-Asian companies? What made the webinar particularly interesting is that speakers had diverse insights and answers to these very topical and pressing questions.

After Dr Su commenced the session and introduced speakers, and Dean Chang Yen Li of the National Chung Hsing University delivered a cordial welcome, Dr Nottage commenced the discussion on corporate governance and independent directors, sketching the growth of sharemarkets in ASEAN and other parts of Asia, focusing on Malaysia and more briefly Cambodia. He proposed comparisons focusing on why and when independent director requirements are introduced, how this happens, what they are, and where they actually or potentially have impacts. Dr Nottage noted that Malaysia presents interesting data on independent directors given its peculiar history. Amid and after the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the World Bank and IMF encouraged (without requiring) changes and new corporate governance regulations in Malaysia. Notably, Malaysia was an early leader calling for independent directors (implementing requirements before Australia), but commentators have wondered wonders if this was ‘window dressing’ to lure back foreign investors (and regain foreign investors who had fled after the financial crisis). While they may have tried to introduce independent director requirements, it is critical to consider that there are always problems with legal transplants. Malaysia developed (like Thailand[1]) a three-tiered system of mandatory listing rules, ‘comply or explain’ Corporate Governance Code higher standards, and even higher independent director requirements that listed companies can voluntary disclose (but for which they do not need to explain non-compliance). A particular innovation – somewhat paralleling Indian corporate law reforms in 2013 – is is to require a two-tier vote (including a majority of the minority) for directors serving more than 12 years.

By contrast, Cambodia has a much newer and smaller sharemarket, with a less well-resourced regulator, so relies just on mandatory minimum standards. Those exclude from independent directors any individuals serving in competing firms, as in Thailand, perhaps reflecting the weakness of competition law and enforcement.[2] It will be interesting to observe how the country changes and independent director requirements start to be tightened in an effort to make them more functional. Following Dr Nottage, Dr Dube’s discussion largely focused on the role of independent directors in contemporary India. Dr Dube posed interesting questions – such as whether Indian corporate governance needs to be ‘Indianised’ – and explored the emergence of diverse laws in tandem with growing conceptualisations of independent directors in the Indian context. Dr Dube seemed to use a very interesting word – calibrating – to define continuity and change in this area in India in recent years. Dr Dube discussed the mandatory appointment of women independent directors; declaration of independence; auditing independence; the theory that independent directors played significant roles in raising market size, profitability, and sustainability; and evidence-based research finding a positive correlation between influences of independent directors and companies’ policies on health, safety, and environmental audits. Dr Dube noted the Tata Group Supreme Court case in 2016 (regarding the removal of then chairman Cyrus Mistry from office and later the company’s board) and implications (i.e., normalising independent directors in this context?).

Later, Dr Hargovan and Dr Chen posed as commenters and critically appraised Dr Nottage and Dr Dube. Dr Chen particularly analysed the concept of novel law on independent directors as window dressing to attract foreign investment, whether independent directors are supposed to serve as managers or a check against managers, tensions in boardrooms, incumbent directors refusing independent directors access to certain corporate data in Taiwan, seemingly inevitable conflicts between majority and minority shareholders, and implications of declaring independence (i.e., is it just a declaration?). Dr Hargovan referred to minority interests in family-dominated companies in Asia, independence from whom and for what (definitional issues), the perils of the legal transplant, optimal board composition (taking into account local conditions and cultures), characteristics of Asian companies (tangential to varieties of capitalism), the Kotak Committee Report in India (2017), and indicia of independence (interestingly similar between say Australia and India). Dr Hargovan noted that listed companies in Asia are more likely to be controlled by promoters than in Australia, where ownership is typically more diffused and the participation of institutional investors in corporate ownership follows a different pattern. Dr Hargovan closed by noting that the Anglo-Australian model is not guaranteed to be successfully transplanted to Asian countries; a lot depends on the economy and other factors, as illustrated by his recent article on Indian developments.[3]

Dr Nottage and Dr Dube closed with a few short words in response, although time was limited. To view the recording and for further Contemporary Asia International Forum Series events, please contact Dr Edith I Tzu Su at edithsu@nchu.edu.tw.

***

Joseph Black is a Juris Doctor student at the University of Sydney and anticipates commencing his Masters of International Law program from February 2022. Joseph is an intern with the CAPLUS and is interested in Japanese Law, Chinese Law, Indonesian Law, East Asian Studies, and other fields.


[1] Nottage, Luke R., Independent Directors and Corporate Governance in Thailand: A New Frontier (May 13, 2020). Journal of Transnational Law and Policy, 31 (Forthcoming, early 2022), Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 20/26, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3599705

[2] Nottage, Luke R., Fledgling Corporate Governance and Independent Directors in Cambodia’s Securities Market (November 14, 2019). Australian Journal of Corporate Law, 35, 2020, pp. 208-234, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 19/60, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3459361

[3] Hanrahan P; Hargovan A, 2020, ‘Legislating the concept of the independent company director: Recent Indian reforms seen through Australian eyes’, Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal, vol. 20, pp. 86 – 114, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14729342.2020.1773018

Japanese and Asia-Pacific Dispute Resolution events over October 2021

Over this month I am pleased to contribute to three events regarding Asia-Pacific arbitration and dispute resolution. On 1 October, I am moderating a session on International Commercial Arbitration in Japan and Germany, at the comparative ADR conference hosted by Institute of Japanese Law at the FernUniversität in Hagen to commemorate the 30th anniversary of its online courses in Japanese law. The speakers are well-known lawyers Ms Yoshimi Ohara (Nagashima Ohno & Tsumematsu) and Dr Christian Strasser (HEUKING KÜHN LÜER WOJTEK). Other sessions compare investment treaty arbitration as well as mediation.

On 20 October I present two classes in a new postgraduate law course on international commercial arbitration developed for the University of Chile by Santiago-based lawyer and former USydney LLM student Ricardo Vasquez Urra, which we hope will be offered annually. This too draws on my recently published book on international commercial and investor-state arbitration, and parallels my co-teaching (with barrister Dr Anna Kirk) the LLM course on international commercial arbitration at the University of Auckland late last year and in 2022.

On 2 October, I present the module on consumer redress and access to justice for a new postgraduate intensive course on consumer protection developed by the University of Malaya. I highlight law and policy developments mostly by comparing Australia, Japan and Southeast Asia, building on books including ASEAN Consumer Law Cooperation and Harmonisation (CUP 2019) and Contract Law in Japan (Wolters Kluwer 2019, 2nd ed 2022), as well as other recent publications including Studies in the Contract Laws of Asia (especially Volume III, all reviewed here for the Journal of Japanese Law). We explore some law and practice around courts and tribunals, Ombudsman and related arbitration-like processes, mediation, and other processes for consumer redress.

P.S. On 26 October I also present on “Corporate Governance and Independent Directors in Southeast Asia” (focusing on Thailand and somewhat Malaysia) for a webinar on the Role of Independent Directors in Contemporary Asia, part of the Contemporary Asia International Forum Series 2021 at National (National Chung Hsing University) hosted by Professor I-Tzu (Edith) Su.

P.P.S. This marks the 250th posting on this Japanese Law and the Asia-Pacific blog, over more than a decade. Many thanks to occasional guest bloggers and all readers!