Charles Poncet was born in 1946 and studied law in Geneva and Washington, DC. He has a master’s degree in comparative law from Georgetown Law School (1973) and PhD in law from the University of Geneva (1981). He is a former member of the Swiss Parliament (1989–1995) and a practising lawyer in Geneva. He retired from CMS von Erlach Poncet at the end of 2016. He speaks French, English, Italian, German and Spanish (in progress).
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE A CAREER IN ARBITRATION?
The unexpected opportunity to work for Pierre and Jean-Flavien Lalive when I was finishing my PhD in law. That was an amazing experience, for which I am deeply in debt to both of them.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS ARBITRATION CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED PRACTISING?
It has become much more sophisticated, technically speaking. Cases tend to be more complicated. The average quality of counsel has dramatically improved.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
I have reached the age where I no longer have to prove anything!
HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A LITIGATOR ENHANCED YOUR PRACTICE IN ARBITRATION?
Litigators know the value of “leg work”, by which I mean reading every single piece of paper in a case and leaving no stone unturned.
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE ACHMEA RULING FOR INVESTMENT ARBITRATION?
They are still to be seen. Achmea was actually a very narrow ruling. That said, there is clearly an offensive against investment arbitration emanating from the European Commission. This is regrettable.
WHAT DO PARTIES LOOK FOR IN A TOP-FLIGHT ARBITRATOR?
I suppose the assurance that the person they appoint will turn up at the hearing having read everything; keeps an open mind on the issues; listens to the arguments and the witnesses; and will make sure that nothing important to the party appointing him or her escapes the chair’s attention.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF COMMERCIAL AND INVESTMENT ARBITRATION?
The “day in court” the parties get is considerably more thorough and in-depth than in most state courts. This applies to both. The proposition that in future some “professional” judges should dispose of complex investor-state cases, on the basis of written pleas and a hearing lasting a couple of hours, strikes me as shockingly stupid and utterly counterproductive. It will simply discourage investment into EU countries.
YOU HAVE ENJOYED A VERY DISTINGUISHED CAREER SO FAR. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACHIEVE THAT YOU HAVE NOT YET ACCOMPLISHED?
When I write an award, I would love to be able to get rid of the anguish that I may be getting it wrong, which makes drafting it such painstaking and hard labour, but that’s unlikely to happen.