I. Definition and context
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.
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.
III. International arbitration
A. Impact of the language of proceedings
B. National legislation
IV. Who determines the language of proceedings in the absence of agreement?
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
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.
Fouchard, P., and Others, 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., and Others, 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.
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