Martin Wiebecke is “a very good arbitrator”, compliment sources who note he is “very calm but with great authority” in proceedings.
Martin Wiebecke has acted as counsel, sole arbitrator, party-appointed arbitrator and chairman in more than 190 international arbitrations under all major institutions’ rules, as well as in ad hoc arbitrations. He also has a mediation practice and an arbitration-related court practice (annulment and execution proceedings). He is admitted to practise in Switzerland, Germany and New York, and before the US Supreme Court. He is fluent in German, English and French, and has a good knowledge of Portuguese.
What is the most complex aspect of commercial arbitration in your experience, and how do you tackle it successfully?
The single most complex event is the evidentiary hearing and its organisation in a large case, often with more than two parties, dozens of witnesses and experts, and numerous counsel and barristers. This calls for accurate preparation to accommodate the interests and wishes of all parties and persons involved.
How has the market changed since you first started practising?
In the 1990s, when I started as counsel, the arbitrations were conducted much more efficiently by the parties’ counsel. Except for rare cases there were only substantive arguments. Procedural games were almost unknown, and no party counsel would dare to submit a procedural application that was entirely without merit and doomed to fail from the outset. The arbitrations used to be more time-efficient and cost-effective.
In what ways is commercial arbitration suitable for the resolution of consumer disputes?
Commercial arbitration is not suitable for resolving consumer disputes. Like labour law disputes, they should first go to mediation and then to a state judge. The amounts in dispute simply do not bear arbitral proceedings.
To what extent is commercial arbitration a more viable system of dispute resolution than court systems?
I don’t think that a court system cannot be viable and work well for the resolution of international commercial disputes, if one party is prepared to submit its dispute to the courts of a country with a sophisticated court system. Commercial and banking disputes hailing from many countries are litigated in London.
However, if this is not acceptable for a party, arbitration remains in most cases the only option for the resolution of international commercial disputes.
Its main advantage, which has yet to be beaten, is that it provides scope to execute an award under the New York Convention in almost all commercially important countries. Confidentiality remains an important issue for all parties, in particular in IP and IT matters. On top of this, the option to select the arbitrators remains especially relevant for businesspeople who want their arbitrator to be someone they can trust on account of his or her specific experience and understanding of their industry, even if it is only from the legal viewpoint.
What resources does the commercial arbitration community have to address criticisms that arbitrators are insufficiently accountable? Is this a valid critique?
This critique is not valid. Any arbitrator is much more accountable than any state judge. If an arbitrator were to continuously render decisions that were not well reasoned, or even show partisanship, this would become known rather rapidly in the arbitration community and the arbitrator would receive no more appointments. The same would not happen to state judges, who in most cases have life tenure.
What role does arbitration have to play in a world that has been impacted by covid-19?
With its international scope, arbitration has already been at the forefront with the use of modern communication technologies. It is already the case that the filing of submissions and all written evidence is done mostly by email or other means of electronic filing. The amount of remote work will be further increased due to covid-19: even more telephone and video conferences, instead of case management conferences and procedural hearings in person. As far as is viable, video conferences will be used instead of (parts of) hearings.
How does international commercial arbitration benefit from its relative autonomy from public regulation, and does this autonomy have any drawbacks?
There is less autonomy from public regulation than one would think. Ultimately, every award can be controlled by a state court, either in annulment proceedings or in execution proceedings. Further, the different lex arbitri provide the legal framework. Autonomy only exists with regard to the organisation of the procedure. This is not a drawback, but a prerequisite for the organisation of efficient customised proceedings.
What are the advantages of acting as an independent arbitration specialist as opposed to within a large firm?
There are fewer advantages to an independent arbitrator than is often assumed. Even as a sole arbitrator, or working in a boutique, you will regularly have conflicts of interest, though of course less so. Fewer conflicts may well be the only advantage.
"He is a fantastic arbitrator and very much in demand as a result"
"Martin has a hands-on approach and is very open minded"
"He promotes diversity and is very thorough in his work"
"He is very experienced and good to work with"
Martin Wiebecke is admitted to practise in Switzerland, Germany and New York, and before the US Supreme Court.
He has acted as counsel, sole arbitrator, party-appointed arbitrator and chairman in more than 200 international commercial arbitrations under the rules of the ICC, LCIA, SCAI (Swiss Chambers), DIS, VIAC (Vienna), Stockholm Institute, AAA, SIAC, MKAS (Moscow), CAS and other institutions, UNCITRAL, and in ad hoc arbitrations.
He also has investor-state arbitration, domestic arbitration and mediation experience, and an arbitration-related court practice (annulment and execution proceedings).
His arbitration experience includes, in particular, mergers and acquisitions, shareholders’ agreements, joint ventures, privatisations, foreign investments, infrastructure and development projects, construction and engineering, automotive, oil and gas, energy and natural resources, mining, pharmaceuticals, life sciences, biotechnology, telecommunications, technology transfer, licence agreements, patents, IP, FRAND, insurance and reinsurance, banking and finance, tax, defence contracts, disputes involving states and public entities and enterprises, agency, distribution, and sale and purchase agreements. He is on the panel of arbitrators of various arbitral institutions (such as ICC, LCIA, VIAC, ICDR/AAA and WIPO).
He was a member of the EU Commission’s expert group on the interface between the Brussels I Regulation (Regulation 44/2001) and arbitration.
He is a frequent speaker at international conferences and seminars and a past chairman of the international sales commission of the International Association of Lawyers.
Martin Wiebecke was educated at the Universities of Freiburg (BA economics, 1979); Geneva, Göttingen (JD, 1983); Basel (lic iur, 1986); and Columbia Law School (LLM, 1984).
He is fluent in German, English and French, and has basic knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese.