Problem: arbitration does not enjoy a good reputation. This is thought to be because of the variable quality of arbitrators. Disputing parties are, of course, free to choose their own arbitrator. Once they have fallen out, however, they tend not to be able to agree on anything. Invariably, therefore, they resort to the president of bodies such as the rics, riba or Chartered Institute of Arbitrators to choose their arbitrator for them. The process for presidential appointments varies from body to body. The rics, for example, is proud of the time and resources committed to selecting the most suitable person for the particular dispute. The rics offers a comprehensive dispute resolution service, operating from a well staffed central office. Other professional bodies vary in their approach to the task. There was even talk once of the riba giving up on this job altogether. Rightly or wrongly, therefore, the words 'lottery' and 'Presidential appointments' are often used in the same sentence. Many arbitrators are capable, hard-working and fair. It is those who have lost their edge or have never quite realised their potential who cast a shadow on the process as a whole. So what's the solution?
The introduction of the Arbitration Act 1996 was a great step forward. It clearly spells out an arbitrator's duties and makes it clear that the days of just sitting back and listening are gone. Arbitrators are now obliged to adopt procedures suitable to the circumstances of the particular case, to avoid unnecessary delay or expense and provide a fair means for the resolution of the dispute. Lest they be in any doubt, Lord Saville, the key draughtsman of the Act, urged arbitrators to 'get a grip'. The new Act has been seized upon by a new breed of arbitrators who are keen to get on with it. But what about those who are not?