“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