26 Nov 2009

International Arbitration Amendment Bill introduced into Australian Parliament

Yesterday, the Attorney-General of Australia, the Hon. Robert McClelland MP, introduced into Parliament proposed reforms for the International Arbitration Act 1974 (Cth) designed to "ensure the Act remains at the forefront of international arbitration practice".

The development follows the announcement in November 2008 of the Government's intention to review the Act, which is the law governing the conduct of international commercial arbitration in Australia. The review's primary object was to consider possible amendments to the Act to "ensure it provides a comprehensive and clear framework governing international arbitration in Australia".

After consideration of more than 30 submissions from legal bodies and the profession both locally and internationally, the proposed reforms to the Act were today introduced in the form of the International Arbitration Amendment Bill 2009.

Among its proposed amendments, the Bill repeals section 21 of the Act, previously interpreted to allow parties to choose to resolve their dispute under a law other than the Model Law, and introduces new interpretation provisions intended for greater guidance to the courts in interpreting the Act. The Bill also implements many of the amendments to the Model Law as adopted by UNCITRAL in 2006, including as to the making and enforcing of interim measures, and gives the Federal Court concurring jurisdiction on matters arising under the Act and the Model Law.

Further amendments include the introduction of new optional provisions available to the parties to an arbitration agreement which cover subpoenas and other court orders to support an arbitration, the disclosure of confidential information, and the death of a party.

Additionally, the Bill provides an expanded definition of an agreement in writing under the New York Convention, provisions for minimising delay in enforcement proceedings, and clarification of the operation of the Model Law with respect to challenges to the appointment of an arbitrator.

In introducing the Bill, the Attorney-General highlighted its aim to "emphasise the importance of speed, fairness and cost-effectiveness in international arbitration, while clearly defining and limiting the role of the courts in international arbitration without compromising the important protective function they exercise."

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