The BVI International Arbitration Centre will host its third International Arbitration Conference next week as part of the Virgin Islands’ years-long effort to become a hub for out-of-court dispute resolution.
From Monday through Friday, 100 to 130 people from across the Caribbean, United States and Europe will convene under the theme “Arbitration 2.0.”
“There’s a lot of pressure to get this conference right,” BVI IAC CEO Francois Lassalle said of the event, which is the first since Hurricane Irma. “We’re getting a lot of international practitioners to come speak and attend the conference, so we want them to first of all have a great experience — not only in terms of the conference itself but the BVI, because this is designed to showcase the jurisdiction.”
As a fast-growing method to resolve commercial disputes, arbitration is a potential economic boon for the territory if the VI can make its mark before other countries in the region, Mr. Lassalle said.
Since the BVI IAC opened in 2017, it has administered three arbitrations, with only one hearing taking place in the centre’s own facilities.
However, Mr. Lasalle is not discouraged. He said it takes time to build up trust, with some institutions taking five years to get their first case. He hopes conferences like this one will help spread the word.
“What we’re trying to achieve is a big marketing coup, and just to get people to understand that the BVI is just not a financial services centre or a good commercial litigation jurisdiction like it has been for the last 20 or 30 years: It is also a fully fledged international arbitration jurisdiction,” he explained.
He added that the VI’s status as a financial services centre makes it easier to demonstrate the territory’s trustworthiness as an arbitration centre to the business community.
“There’s absolutely no reason as to why they should not trust us and believe in the fact that we are neutral, modern, flexible and private when it comes to arbitration,” he said.
Panels at the conference will cover topics including cybersecurity, ethics, “retreating globalism” and others.
An event themed “Construction Projects and Dispute Management Training” will include a construction specialist barrister from the United Kingdom, a prominent arbitrator from Jamaica, and a VI practitioner who will train the audience on contracts and dispute resolution in the construction industry.
“That’s quite important because obviously off the back of Irma there’s a lot of construction that’s going on in the BVI,” Mr. Lassalle said. “And what we’ve tried to do is to approach everyone — from people working in banks that provide funding to construction projects, to insurance people providing insurance for these projects, to contractors and architects — to tell them, ‘Hey, guys, I know you don’t like to sign contracts, but when you do you should really understand what you’re signing.’”
The conference agenda also includes a seminar on diversity hosted by the international non-profit ArbitralWomen, on the heels of comments made by United States rapper Jay-Z late last year about a lack of black arbitrators in the industry.
While the seminar is not a direct consequence of the artist’s comments, Mr. Lassalle acknowledged that “it would have been stupid not to have something on diversity this time around.”
He went on to say that the BVI IAC has promoted diversity from its inception.
In fact, he said, it has “one of the most diverse panels of arbitrators out there” in terms of gender, ethnicity and age.
He added that the centre has also signed the Equal Representation in Arbitration Pledge and has hosted and moderated several panels on the topic.
In addition, he said that anyone dissatisfied with the selection of arbitrators on the BVI IAC’s panel can choose someone from outside the panel. This is not the case with the American Arbitration Association, the association that Jay-Z was dealing with, according to Mr. Lassalle.
The conference will also include the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Accelerated Route to Fellowship Programme, a technical training that is targeted toward lawyers interested in entering the field of arbitration. Mr. Lasalle expects about 10 people to take part in the programme, which will start tomorrow and continue through the weekend.
The conference will culminate in a sailing trip on Friday of next week — an excursion that he hopes will encourage participants to return to the VI for vacation as well as for business.
“If we can give them a feel for everything that the BVI has to offer, what we hope will happen is when they go back home and they start talking about arbitration, our facilities, the legislation, the people they met at the conference, and how fantastic it was, they’ll end up by saying, ‘By the way, they took us out on a boat and we had the time of our lives on the water,’” Mr. Lassalle said. “I want people’s eyes to sparkle when they’re done with us.”
Editor’s note: Russell Harrigan, the conference organiser, is the majority owner and publisher of this newspaper.