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Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders

Benjamin Hughes

Benjamin Hughes

The Arbitration Chambers28 Maxwell Road#03-18SingaporeSingapore069120

Thought Leader

Thought Leaders - Arbitration 2020

Q&A

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

WWL says

Benjamin Hughes is a favourite among peers, who describe him as "the most sought-after American arbitrator based in Asia" and "a great practitioner". ​

Questions & Answers

Benjamin Hughes is an independent arbitrator with The Arbitration Chambers in Singapore and Fountain Court Chambers in London, and adjunct law professor at the National University of Singapore. He has been appointed in over 120 arbitrations around the world with billions of dollars at stake. Ben previously practised as counsel at Shearman & Sterling in the US and Singapore, and was the founding co-head of the international arbitration practice at one of Korea’s largest law firms.

What do you think parties look for in an arbitrator? 

Whatever people may say, the truth is that parties are looking for an arbitrator who will help them win their case. They want an arbitrator who will give them the award they want, or a co-arbitrator who will persuade the other arbitrators to do so. This does not necessarily reflect any dishonest intentions, as most parties probably feel they are right and that they should be vindicated in the arbitration. But we must deal honestly and openly with this extreme moral hazard. 

A different question is: what makes a good arbitrator? Essentially, we are looking for someone with good judgement and management skills. A good arbitrator is procedurally efficient and fair, giving both parties the feeling that they have truly had the chance to present their respective cases; and he or she writes an award that is fully enforceable for the winning party but fully understandable for the losing party. 

If you could introduce one reform in international arbitration, what would it be and why? 

I think it is time to revisit how we conduct document discovery in international commercial arbitration, including in particular the Redfern Schedule. Parties tend to spend a great deal of time (and therefore money) on this exercise, usually with very little to show for it in the end. Objections and responses on the Redfern Schedule often devolve into formulaic repetition and improper submissions on the merits, neither of which are helpful to the tribunal. I have started using a different approach in some of my recent cases, which I hope will reduce the time and effort wasted on this frequently fruitless exercise. I will let you know if it works as well as I hope!

What role do you see third-party funding playing in arbitration moving forward? 

I happened to be an arbitrator in the first case in Singapore involving a third-party funder. We had to deal with several very interesting issues, such as the respondent’s applications for disclosure of the funding agreement and security for costs, and the claimant’s cost submission seeking recovery of the amount of its winnings it had agreed to pay the funder. 

I believe the role of third-party funding will only grow in the future, providing greater access to the arbitral process among clients with limited resources. Arbitral tribunals must be prepared to deal with the issues that arise as a result, including disclosure, potential conflicts of interest, security for costs and recovery of costs. But I believe the role played by third-party funders is a positive one, providing a way for well-founded claims to go forward. 

What steps can younger arbitration practitioners take to improve their chances of getting appointments? Is there an important role to play here for experienced lawyers? 

I get asked this question very often by young lawyers and even law students. I tell them about the time that I, as a young-ish arbitration lawyer, asked an arbitrator in one of my cases how I might improve my chances of being appointed as an arbitrator. He smiled kindly at me and said: “You need some grey hair.”

He was right. One of the most important qualities of a good arbitrator is a certain amount of wisdom born of experience. I do think we need more gender, racial and cultural diversity in international commercial arbitration, but youth is decidedly not, in my view, a diversity category. We will all age and get wiser. So, my advice to younger arbitration practitioners is to gain that valuable experience and wisdom as counsel, and to seek opportunities to sit as arbitrator when you are in your ripe old 40s. 

You have enjoyed a very distinguished career so far. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished? 

The wonderful thing about this line of work is that there is so much variety, so many different and interesting things to do. I have never sat as arbitrator in an ICSID case, for example, and I think that would be very interesting. I worked on one case briefly as counsel and found the intersection of public policy and commercial interests fascinating. I would also like to finish the book I have been working on (off and on) for the past several years, if only not to be continuously embarrassed that it is not finished yet. I would like to sit as arbitrator on a case in Spanish. The list of what I have not yet been able to achieve in this field goes on and on. And I hope the list is always longer than the time I have left!

Global Leader

Arbitration 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

Benjamin Hughes is a favourite among peers, who describe him as "the most sought-after American arbitrator based in Asia" and "a great practitioner". ​

Biography

Benjamin Hughes is an independent arbitrator with The Arbitration Chambers in Singapore and Fountain Court Chambers in London. He is also an adjunct professor at the National University of Singapore Law School and National Taiwan University Law School, where he teaches courses on international commercial arbitration.

Ben has been appointed as arbitrator in well over 100 arbitrations with a total amount in dispute of several billion US dollars, including ad hoc arbitrations and arbitrations under the rules of the American Arbitration Association (AAA), the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (ACICA), the Asian International Arbitration Centre (AIAC), the Beijing Arbitration Commission (BAC), the Chinese Arbitration Association (CAA), the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC), the German Arbitration Institute (DIS), the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the International Center for Dispute Resolution (ICDR), the Japan Commercial Arbitration Association (JCAA), the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board (KCAB), the London Maritime Arbitration Association (LMAA), the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC), the Singapore Chamber of Maritime Arbitration (SCMA), the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) (ad hoc and administered), and the Vietnam International Arbitration Centre (VIAC).

Ben has also acted as emergency arbitrator and as sole arbitrator in expedited and fast-track proceedings and is a panel arbitrator of numerous arbitral institutions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Ben's experience as arbitrator spans a broad range of complex and high-value commercial disputes, including joint venture and shareholder disputes, intellectual property and licensing, media and telecommunications, construction and infrastructure projects, energy and resources, shipping and shipbuilding, automobile and heavy machinery manufacturing, agency and distributorship agreements, military acquisition and procurement contracts, hotel management agreements, sale of goods and general commercial disputes.

Ben has been appointed as arbitrator in cases seated in Bangalore, Beijing, Delhi, Geneva, Guam, Hamburg, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, London, Manila, Maui, New York, Seoul, Singapore, Stockholm, Sydney, Taipei and Tokyo. He has heard cases governed by the laws of Australia, Austria, BVI, Cayman Islands, China, England and Wales, Fiji, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mongolia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia (including shariah matters), Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United States (including New York, California and US territories) and Vietnam, as well as lex mercatoria and the CISG. He has also handled complex conflict of law and jurisdictional issues, joinder applications, summary dismissal applications and disputes involving multiple contracts and applicable laws.

Chambers and Partners recognises Ben as a "most in-demand arbitrator" for Singapore and the Asia- Pacific region, stating: "Independent practitioner Benjamin Hughes is widely regarded as 'an outstanding arbitrator with a particularly strong market reputation for Korean matters'. Interviewees clearly indicate that he remains 'a shoo-in for Korean-related appointments' but are also quick to point out that, having relocated from Seoul to Singapore and notably broadened the geographical scope of his practice, 'his reputation now transcends the country.' One source identifies him as 'one of the new wave of arbitrators who are bringing a breath of fresh air to the space'. They also emphasise the 'nice mix of the academic and commercial' in his approach, 'the way he tries to create a consensus' in proceedings and the 'efficient and decisive' manner he adopts in conducting them."

Ben is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, the Hong Kong Institute of Arbitrators and the Singapore Institute of Arbitrators. He has taught extensively in the field of international dispute resolution, including as associate professor of law at Seoul National University Law School (2015- 2019) and as visiting professor at the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law and the National University of Singapore School of Law. He serves on the editorial boards of the Asian International Arbitration Journal, the Korea Arbitration Review and the Journal of Korean Law.

Prior to commencing his practice as an independent arbitrator, Ben was the founding co-chair of the international dispute resolution practice group at Shin & Kim, one of Korea's oldest and largest full- service law firms. He previously practised international arbitration at Shearman & Sterling in the US and Singapore, and at Kim & Chang in Seoul.

Ben was educated in both the civil law and the common law traditions, having studied first at Seoul National University College of Law (all coursework in Korean), and then at NYU School of Law. While at NYU, he spent one semester at the University of Palermo Law School in Buenos Aires, Argentina (all coursework in Spanish). He also studied Chinese (Mandarin) and East Asian history at Harvard University.

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