Maritime Arbitrators

Although the practice of shipping arbitration is not restricted to its members, most active London-based maritime arbitrators are full members of the London Maritime Arbitrators Association, an association presently numbering around fifty maritime arbitrators. Their backgrounds are extremely diverse and, to place the significance of this organisation into perspective, its members between them publish around 500 “awards” annually, receiving around 4000 “appointments” each year, probably more than all other maritime arbitration centres added together. These disputes cover a wide range of subjects, including charterparty, bill of lading, sale and purchase, ship operation, shipbuilding, commodity and oil trading contracts. Whereas in some jurisdictions arbitrators may in effect be able substantially to disregard any system of law, LMAA members (and other English arbitrators) are bound to and consistently apply English commercial and maritime law. As we have seen, this code of law is now so highly developed as to be widely regarded and applied as if it were the international law of commerce and shipping. It continues to develop in order to meet changing needs largely due to the possibility of appealing from decisions – “awards” – of arbitrators, mainly in those cases where commercial public interest is involved. Under the English Arbitration Act, 1950, as amended by the Arbitration Act, 1979, appeals are restricted, but those that are granted are heard in the Commercial Court (see above) whose judges have great experience in commercial and maritime arbitration, a factor that often facilitates equitable compromise in disputes of this nature. The idea of “arbitration” was originally conceived as a distinctly non-legal method of solving disputes and the arbitrators preferred and chosen were men with a commercial background rather than with legal qualifications. It was thought that they would lend a fairer and less ‘straight-laced’ mind to the disputes on hand and interpret the provisions of the relevant charterparty or other commercial agreement without being strictly concerned with the legal niceties and sheer accuracy or non-accuracy of the language used in the charterparty wording. One of the best known of all arbitration clauses – the Centrocon Arbitration Clause – requires the appointment of men “engaged in the shipping and/or grain trades” and who are “Members of the Baltic Exchange”, and, of course, where the charterparty is peculiar to a particular trade, this is a most reasonable and logical stipulation. Nevertheless, over the years, some might say inevitably, the procedure of arbitration has gradually assumed a legal flavour.