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On February 25, 2020, the newly established International Commercial Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal rendered its first decision on an application to set aside an international arbitral award. The decision provides interesting clarifications on the control of an arbitrator’s independence and impartiality. It confirms prior case law of French courts and offers practical guidelines regarding (i) the extent to which information that is public knowledge and can be easily accessed should be disclosed by the arbitrator and (ii) whether an arbitrator’s past position in a law firm affiliated to a law firm of one of the parties’ shareholders affects their independence or impartiality.

First decision of the newly established bilingual International Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal 

The decision has symbolic significance, as it is the very first decision rendered by the International Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal in setting aside proceedings against an international award. In an effort to modernize its courts system1 and in the hope of attracting more international litigants, in February 2018, France launched the creation of “international chambers” by means of two protocols. The first protocol, which was entered into between the Paris Bar and the Paris Commercial Court (Tribunal de Commerce de Paris) aimed at revamping the procedure before the pre-existing international chamber specifically designed for the resolution of international commercial disputes. The second protocol, entered into between the Paris Bar and the Paris Court of Appeal, created ex nihilo the International Chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal. 

The procedure before the two courts presents similar key features. First, the use of English or another foreign language during the procedure is now possible (with witnesses, experts, parties, and foreign lawyers able to intervene orally in the chosen language). Secondly, focus is now given to testimonial evidence (witnesses and experts), including the previously inconceivable possibility of carrying out Anglo-Saxon style cross-examinations. Finally, the judges composing the international chambers must have knowledge of the main applicable foreign laws and will be able to conduct proceedings in English.

The two international chambers have jurisdiction over disputes with an international dimension, where a foreign law may be applicable or where the interests of international trade are involved. The Court is also competent in relation to setting aside proceedings and appeals against enforcement orders relating to international arbitral awards. (As regards domestic awards, the chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal which was previously in charge of setting aside proceedings remains competent.)