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Conducting Arbitration Proceedings Amidst COVID-19

The world has come to a standstill with the Corona Pandemic which has been a reason for lockdowns in various countries. The legal system in India along with the Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms has been disrupted and adversely affected. The Courts have already started the process of video conferencing vide its guidelines for Courts to carry out functions online. This seemed like the only viable option to continue in light of the lockdown.

In the wake of this situation, the Supreme Court took suo moto cognizance and held that the limitation period under the Limitation Act shall stand extended in any proceedings before the Court or the Tribunal. Therefore, the timelines of the arbitration proceedings when it comes to Section 29A of the A&C Act which provides for the time for passing the decree and the extension that can be granted or when it comes to any judicial proceedings or a challenging procedure under Section 34 of the Act will be disturbed resulting in the extension of time periods.

However, the Indian Council of Arbitration (ICA) which has adopted the International Commercial Arbitration Rules, mandates in the rule that the Tribunal has the power to conduct the arbitration proceedings through virtual modes, such as video conferencing, Telephonic conversations or any other means. This modernized form of conducting the proceedings is a very relevant provision with respect to the present times wherein it is not possible to conduct the proceedings in person. Additionally, this would encourage a mode that is cheap, quick, and efficient in the light of present circumstances.

Domestic arbitrations can take the benefit of this procedure even when the A&C Act is silent on it. However, Section 19 of the Act provides that the Tribunal is not bound to follow the Code of Civil Procedure and the Evidence Act. Hence, it can be referred that the Tribunal can exercise its power to conduct virtual proceedings if the matter is of urgent nature. Moreover, there are procedures wherein the Tribunal can also conduct the proceedings and decide on the ‘documents’ only. However, this can be utilized only when the matter is not a complex set of proceedings.

While this might seem the only convenient idea to adopt in the current times, it has its own share of drawbacks. It becomes a problem when there is a complex dispute which requires a huge amount of evidence and oral hearings. The Tribunal has to ensure that all the relevant people may it be the parties, witnesses, etc. are well equipped with the necessary technology for the smooth functioning of the proceedings. Moreover, with the increase in usage of virtual modes, there exists a risk of data privacy and confidentiality. For instance, the zoom platform was considered to be hacking your meetings, etc.

Although there are a lot of possible risks and challenges when conducting the proceedings online through video conferencing, however, with the ever-rising patients and the death toll, there are high probabilities that the situation cannot be controlled in the near future. Therefore, there are high chances of extension of lockdowns for many months and hence it becomes very essential for the Tribunal to start adopting the virtual machines for quick and cheap disposal of urgent matters.

Ayushi is currently in the 3rd Year of Law School at the Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur,

You can contact them at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ayushi-bhutra-36885b15b

Editor: Drishti Saxena

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