Author

Ms Justine Touzet

Associate in International Arbitration - Savoie Laporte

Editors
See all

Document Production

I. Definition

1.

Document production is a procedural tool by which a party or the tribunal can request (and order) the production of documents in possession of the other party allowing them to obtain further evidence to substantiate their case.1 

2.

The IBA Rules on the Taking of Evidence (the "IBA Rules") define a “document” as “a writing, communication, picture, drawing, program or data of any kind, whether recorded or maintained on paper or by electronic, audio, visual or any other means.”2 Only documents that already exist can be subjected to requests for document production.3 This is consistent with the purpose of document production which is “to enable a party to prove its case but not to build its case.4

3.

The term production has been defined either to refer specifically to the production of documents during this specific phase of the arbitration or generally that a party relies on to support its case.5

II. A different procedure from discovery and disclosure 

4.

Common and civil law practitioners adopt different approaches towards fact-finding.6 Disclosure or discovery are not present in civil law jurisdictions. 

5.

Discovery is a formal process used in the United States by which adverse parties in litigation exchange information and documents in order to identify the evidence by which they will prove their case at trial.7 Discovery occurs at the outset of a case and is much larger than document production because, on top of exchanges of documents, it also includes depositions, interrogatories and requests for admissions.8 Disclosure in English law is a similar procedure by which a party must disclose, first through a list, all documents that have a bearing on the case even if they are harmful to it.9

6.

Although similar, document production in international arbitration differs from discovery and disclosure. Because it combines features from both common and civil law approaches, document production in arbitration is considered as “one of the most remarkable examples of a merger between different national civil procedure approaches.”10

III. Document production in international arbitration

7.

Although document production is not mandatory in either commercial or investment international arbitration,11 it is commonly used.12

8.

The ICSID Convention, the UNCITRAL Model Law, the ICSID or UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules do not directly address document production, but they broadly empower the tribunal to call upon the parties to produce documents.13

9.

The IBA,14 and some commercial arbitral institutions,15 have put tremendous efforts into harmonizing the applicable rules of evidence between common and civil law cultures to create general principles for dealing with the parties’ right to evidence in arbitration.16

10.

Tribunals and/or parties often refer to the IBA rules17 which are a soft law instrument. As such, parties are free to choose to be bound by them or to apply them as mere guidelines.18 Even without an express agreement, they are still relevant19 and are used and followed by arbitral tribunals20 in both the commercial and investment context.21

11.

In 2018, a new soft law instrument was enacted: the Prague Rules. Taking a more inquisitorial approach than the IBA Rules,22 they recommend at the outset that parties should “avoid any form of document production, including e-discovery.23 However, if parties choose to have a document production phase, the Prague Rules, which seek to promote efficiency, provide inter alia that all requests be made at the first case management conference except “exceptional circumstances.24

IV. Procedure

V. Document production in practice

13.

Parties often use a Redfern Schedule to exchange document requests.29 This schedule usually has five columns.30

14.

The requesting party’s31 document requests are contained in the first column which identifies precisely the documents/categories of documents requested,32 providing a short description of each document's relevance to the case and materiality to its outcome.33 It must also demonstrate that the document sought are “more than likely” not in “possession, custody or control” of the requesting party and that it would not be "unreasonably burdensome” for the requesting party to produce them.34

15.

The requested party fills out the next column indicating whether it agrees to produce non-contested documents35 or whether it objects to the other party's request.36 It can object to each request on the following grounds: (a) lack of sufficient relevance to the case or materiality of its outcome; (b) legal impediment or privilege; (c) unreasonable burden to produce; (d) loss or destruction, commercial or technical confidentiality and considerations of procedural economy; (e) proportionality, fairness or equality of the Parties that the Tribunal determines to be compelling.37 

16.

In the following column, the requesting party can reply.38

17.

Non-contested documents are usually exchanged between the parties without submitting the documents to the arbitral tribunal. Documents produced are not automatically part of the proceedings. Parties should therefore produce them as evidence if they want to subsequently use them in the arbitration.39

18.

In case of contested documents, the tribunal’s decision is contained in the last column of the schedule, usually40 accompanied by a procedural order to which it is attached.41 Although the tribunal has ample discretion in ruling on evidence,42 the tribunal’s decision is generally based on two factors:43 the specificity of the request for a document or a category of documents44 and its relevance and materiality to the outcome of the case.45

19.

In principle, arbitral tribunals do not have any authority to order production from nonparties if the documents sought are in the possession of third parties. However, some arbitral institutions or national law provide for the possibility to seek judicial assistance.46 47 

VI. Specific issues related to investment arbitration

20.

In international arbitration, including in investment arbitration, one of the main issues and most common objections to document production revolves around privilege.48 Both parties often object to document production requests on the ground of attorney-client privilege,49 the work product doctrine (also called the litigation privilege)50 or settlement privilege.51 Investors often object on the ground of trade or industrial secrets.52 From the point of view of States, privilege also includes institutional privileges such as “cabinet confidence,”53crown privilege,”54deliberative process privilege,”55public interest immunity,”56 or “national security privilege.57

21.

Arbitral tribunals have to balance two opposing considerations. On one hand, States define what information are privileged under their national law thereby potentially compromising the system.58 On the other, revealing privileged information may endanger State’s interests, sovereign rights, politics, law-making process and sometimes even national security.59

22.

Investment tribunals have great discretion in dealing with such objections.60 Tribunal mostly rely on international law and have generally61 refused to follow domestic law.62 In case of political or institutional sensitivity, tribunals have requested very specific requests from States63 and a showing that States performed a balancing test between the sensitivity of the requested information and its value for the requesting party’s case.64

23.

The production of documents in investment arbitration is also hindered by complex corporate’s structures because relevant documents would be out of reach of the tribunal65 or if States have control over the investor’s documents in the context of criminal investigations or bankruptcy proceedings.66

24.

Finally, destruction of relevant documents is another important issue in investment arbitration, particularly in the context of wars or revolutions. This was the case in Iran where revolutionary turmoil resulted in either the destruction of relevant evidence on which parties could no longer rely or, since the claims were against States, it was impossible for parties to compel them to produce evidence through the court system.67

VII. Sanctions for non-compliance with the tribunal’s order for document production

A. Adverse inferences

25.

Arbitral tribunals do not have the same powers as domestic courts in the context of document production.68 However, tribunals can draw adverse inferences against parties who fail to comply with a document production order. It consists of inferring from a party’s failure to produce the requested evidence that such evidence was detrimental to that party’s case and that such refusal may confirm the requesting party’s position on a particular factual issue.69

26.

In investment arbitration, only the ICSID Rules specifically refer to adverse inferences.70 The IBA Rules71 and now, the Prague Rules72 explicitly allow arbitral tribunals to draw adverse inferences.

27.

The authority of arbitral tribunal to draw adverse inferences is well accepted as deriving from its authority to appraise the probative value of evidence and73 is reflected in practice,74 although tribunals may be reluctant to draw explicit adverse inference.75

B. Monetary sanctions

28.

Arbitral tribunals can also sanction a party’s misconduct76 or failure to comply with document production requests with awards on costs,77 78 or even damages,79 against parties to the arbitration but also their representatives.80 81

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