Gambarini Camilla picture


Mrs. Gambarini Camilla

Senior Associate, International Arbitration - Withers LLP

See all

Language of the Proceedings

I. Definition and context


The language of proceedings is the language in which parties communicate with the judges or arbitrators, and make their written and oral submissions,1 with few exceptions.2


The language of proceedings affects the parties’ ability to participate and access the justice delivered by the intended forum.3 Domestic courts are bound by the official language of their State; therefore, the use of interpreters is required to ensure due process.4 International courts and International arbitral tribunals, however, must identify the language of proceedings for each case that opposes parties of different linguistic backgrounds.


The language barrier constitutes a practical and legal obstacle5 for the efficient organisation of international judicial proceedings.6

II. Language of proceedings and international courts


Similar to national courts, international courts have one or more official languages.7 Proceedings are conducted in one or more of these official languages,8 or chosen from a list of the institution’s working languages.9 The International Court of Justice chooses the language at the beginning of proceeding pursuant to an objective criterion, agreement of the parties,10 or one party’s request.


Parties can be allowed to plead in a different language, provided that the pleading is immediately translated.11

III. International arbitration

A. Impact of the language of proceedings


The language of proceedings in international arbitration is directly related to the efficiency of the award,12 party equality, and the fundamental right of due process.13 

B. National legislation

IV. Who determines the language of proceedings in the absence of agreement?


States usually determine the language of proceedings in the instrument of their agreement,16 regarding disputes that are not governed by a determined arbitral institution.


Arbitral institutions are overwhelmingly in favour of party autonomy in selection of the language of proceedings as confirmed by arbitration rules17 as well as by case law.18 


The tribunal usually determines the language of proceedings,19 barring an explicit choice from the parties as noted by some arbitral tribunals,20 although some institutions distinguish the phase prior to the formation of the arbitral tribunal from the rest of the proceedings.21


It is possible for an institution’s rules to provide that the institution itself determine the language of proceedings, such as when the parties have not agreed on the language of the proceedings.22


Other rules still apply an objective criterion, requiring no decision from the institution or the arbitral tribunal,23 or allow the tribunal, once formed, to change the procedural language as it sees fit.24

V. How is the language of proceedings determined in the absence of agreement?


Determining the language of proceedings can be based on the circumstances of the case as set forth in arbitral rules25 and as found by arbitral tribunals,26 based solely on the language of the contract, either as a deciding factor27 or simple presumption28 based on the official language of the institution.29 Rules can also remain silent with regard to how arbitrators should determine the language of proceedings.30 For example, the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules do not give any indication to the arbitrators on how to identify the language of proceedings, in some cases tribunals clarified that they has taken into account the language of the applicable treaties, the language of the place of alleged investment, the language of primary dealings between the parties, the concerns of the parties for an efficient and cost-effective procedure.31


Böckstiegel, K.H., Principaux critères retenus par les arbitres internationaux pour l’organisation d’une procédure efficace: regard sur la prochaine décennie, in ICC, Arbitrage: regard sur la prochaine décennie ; actes de la Conférence de Célébration du 75e Anniversaire de la Cour Internationale d’Arbitrage, Genève, 25 septembre 1998, 1999.

Buckley, J.J. Jr., Language and Due Process in International Arbitration, in Euromoney’s Guide to the World’s Leading Experts in Commercial Arbitration, 2017.

Fouchard, P. et al., Traité de l’arbitrage commercial international, 1996.

Leben, C., Droit international des investissements et de l’arbitrage transnational, 2015.

Malintoppi, L., Procédure arbitrale devant les tribunaux CIRDI et hors CIRDI, in Leben, C., Droit international des investissements et de l’arbitrage transnational, 2015.

Pisacane, G. et al., Arbitration in China: Rules and Perspective, 2016.

Seraglini, C. and Ortscheidt, J., Droit de l’arbitrage interne et international, 2013.

Young, M., Part III International Arbitration Agreements: Issues and Perspectives, 10 Silent Talk: Identifying the Language of an Arbitration When the Arbitration Clause Is Silent, in Betancourt, J.C. (ed.), Defining Issues in International Arbitration: Celebrating 100 Years of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, 2016.

Subsequent citations of this document as a whole:
Subsequent citations of this excerpt:
Select a key word :
1 /

Instantly access the most relevant case law, treaties and doctrine.

Start your Free Trial

Already registered ?