Critical remarks on the evolution of our industry

Talk given at the conference “The promise of hybrid dispute resolution fora” held in Doha on 18-19 November 2018.

Before I get going, I’d like to say that this is a paper I have prepared with a co-author, Clément Bachmann, of the University of Geneva, although he is not with me today.


We get trained in ways of seeing things. And then we see in only those ways. We get trained in ways of believing things. And then we believe in only those ways. We get trained in being selective. And then within our selection we move, and think, and plan, and build. Our world is made within and according to these formulae. Beyond this vision, we see little.

And so we continue to write the history of our future with the same ideas. It has been two decades since the remarkable potential of investment arbitration has been discovered, and how it mainly benefits certain social actors, to the detriment of others. It has been even longer that notions were first explored, for instance by Dezalay and Garth, of how the extraordinary development of arbitration was driven by legal entrepreneurs working primarily for themselves, to the detriment of others.

Yet, we are not terribly far into understanding how this future will work. We still look at these questions of growth and opportunities and jurisdiction and professional specialization with the same lens that our fathers and mothers used; we ask the same types of questions about private autonomy and the need for dispute resolution services; the same actors have the same significance; nothing much has changed in the story we tell, in the story we see.


My aim this morning is to sketch a different perspective. To recall a story less often told. A story that ask different questions. Questions about possible limits to private autonomy. Questions about possible limits to how much territory our industry can conquer before legitimacy concerns hit back. Questions about the way we understand and assess the evolution of our field.


But first let me say the usual few words of deserved self-congratulation we all need. As a community, as members of the arbitration community, we are, in many ways, quite tightly knit. We tend to think alike. We tend to have the same values. We tend to come from the same background. We tend to come from the same schools and go to the same sort of bars and restaurants and conferences and lectures, where we exchange the same sort of ideas. And we shine happily when we realize that, yes, we are still very much in agreement. How good it is to be in the company of fellow souls!

But wait, actually. What feels comfortable is perhaps, in fact, not a good idea. Perhaps we shouldn’t all think alike all that much. Hmm. How to know?

As with all deep thoughts about ourselves, we should consult a psychologist. In this case a social psychologist. And indeed she may have an opinion on this. Indeed, social psychologists do have a view about this, a theory called ‘groupthink’.

Groupthink essentially says that, if we are too much all alike and think too much alike, this leads us to feel somewhat invulnerable, unwarrantedly of course. And so we think, for instance, that arbitration is there to stay, once and for all, that private or semi-private dispute resolution is there to stay, at least at the level we have it today. We think like this because we don’t challenge one another’s ideas quite often enough. Most of the time we only nibble at the edges. We focus on technical adjustments.


Yes, the landscape of international dispute resolution is changing. Today, a new instrument is on the table, and it is new and exciting and revolutionary and perhaps we can get a career in it. But rather than, or perhaps in addition to, marveling at this innovation and haggling over cosmetic amendments, let us think for a moment about how we approach these changes, about how we look at them in the first place.

And here is groupthink again. Groupthink informs the way we assess the evolution of dispute settlement mechanisms. Our perspective often remains narrow. Our eyes are fixed on our values and interests, and on how they might be impacted by these changes.

No, no, no, enough, you may say! Obviously the authors of this paper are not aware of all the conferences on arbitration and human rights, arbitration and the environment, and what have you! Well, quite. But, frankly, it does appear that public and third-party interests are only taken into account to the extent that it is deemed necessary to deflect criticism: put brutally, we are willing to consider other values and interest as far as we expect that this may influence the perception of those actors whose support we actually need.

And why should it be otherwise? Why should “the rest” be our problem? Let us not go, just here and just now, into the proposition that we have a collective responsibility towards society at large in our capacity as citizens, as lawyers. Arguably we are lawyers and not merely businesspeople. Law was never meant to be merely business. But this start to sound seriously unenjoyable, so let’s not go there. Then again, we probably do have to admit that we have at least a responsibility to keep our field, our industry, sustainable. For our students, for our tutees, for our metaphorical children, and for ourselves if we are not close to retirement or indeed if we don’t quite know what that word means.

And so, can we be unqualifiedly content with our narrow perspective? Are we, the arbitration community, good, safe in the long run, if we preoccupy ourselves only or mainly with various forms of economic and financial positives?

The point is simple, well known, and the subject of many discussions at, precisely, arbitration conferences: should we not be extremely cautious that the increasing backlash against investment arbitration will not spill over into all other forms of arbitration, regardless how lucrative investment arbitration may be in the short run? If we suggest dispute resolution developments which primarily promote the economic interests of certain categories of the population, we may well be building increasing resentment against what we do, thus increasingly likely pushback and backlash. No, we are not safe in our industry.


So how to think about this whole problem? Perhaps notions of legitimacy might help.

Two notions of legitimacy, to be precise. Substantive legitimacy and rhetorical legitimacy.

Substantive legitimacy asks a simple question: who benefits from a given dispute resolution mechanism, from a given development in dispute resolution mechanisms? And so it also helps understand how changes impact interests and values of all affected actors.

Before we turn to rhetorical legitimacy, let us introduce another idea: perceptions of legitimacy. The idea is simple: what is perceived as legitimate will be supported by those who perceive it as legitimate. So now, what makes one perceive, in the current case, that private dispute resolution, from arbitration to hybrid dispute resolution fora, is legitimate?

Perceptions, of course, may be based on substantive legitimacy. Something may considered legitimate by someone because the something is substantively in line with what the someone wants. Fine.

But another form of legitimacy may play a decisive role in perceptions: enter “rhetorical legitimacy”. We may perceive something as legitimate because it ‘sounds good’, in the sense that it is rhetorically convincing. This would be the case, for instance, if the object in question mobilizes symbols of ‘goodness’, of acceptability, of justice. It is, if you will, a symbolic form of legitimacy. Rhetorical legitimacy is easily a tool. A powerful tool, which consists in mobilizing symbols to boost, or to undermine, the support granted to an institution.


Let us return to groupthink.

What groupthink typically leads us to do, is to consider our interests and values through the lens of substantive legitimacy, and other interests through the lens of rhetorical legitimacy. We assess whether developments – such as the hybridization of international dispute resolution – benefit our community and where the answer is yes, we work on advertising them, framing these developments in a way that will make them appear attractive to larger audiences.

Yes, I have said that rhetorical legitimacy is easily a powerful tool. But it may be a dangerous tool too. Rhetoric certainly works well in the short-term. In the longer term, however, if perceptions are not aligned with reality, backfire is to be expected.

Let me repeat a point I made a minute ago: if we suggest dispute resolution developments which, regardless how appealing they sound rhetorically, only or mainly promote the economic interests of certain categories of the population, we may well be building increasing resentment against what we do, thus increasing the likelihood of pushback and backlash. Put differently, even if rhetorical legitimacy may serve us today, it is doubtful that will benefit our industry tomorrow if our rhetoric is… too rhetorical. So for instance, is “hybridization” a real innovation, or is it merely “repackaging”?


Under a narrow perspective, we would have every reason to welcome the creation of hybrid mechanisms with enthusiasm.

First, they may attract new actors and new disputes into the realm of autonomous dispute settlement, because they circumvent the problem of arbitrability and overcome the reluctance of some parties for institutions which are seen as excessively loose. In other words, hybrid mechanisms increase the territory of autonomous dispute resolution, and therefore the related market.

Second, these new mechanisms have a promising legitimating potential. They increase competition among dispute resolution fora and they promise the “return of the state”.

We do not need to lecture this audience about the alleged miraculous effects of competition. We know the story about competition: competition promotes financial efficiency and leads to the best possible allocation of resources. Increasing competition, it follows, can only be applauded, can only make things more legitimate.

As for the marketed “return of the state”, the rhetorical idea again is simple: we can see it playing its part in the rise of the idea of an international investment court.

The operative word here, of course, is ‘court’. The very word ‘arbitration’ is increasingly associated with critical discourses, in academia, in politics, in the media, in general societal discourses. So let’s call it a court. A court is something good. Something called a court is something good. Affixing the label of ‘court’ to something mobilizes symbols of justice which effectively give the thing it is affixed to a boost in rhetorical or symbolic legitimacy: it will be perceived as more legitimate simple because it is called a court.

Likewise, to some extent, with the idea of state control: the state, as an a priori aggregator of interests and preferences, tends to legitimize whatever it is involved in.

Two assumptions may explain this positive connotation.

First, there is the assumption that the involvement of the state apparatus leads to better societal representation.

Second, there is the assumption that where states are more directly involved, state interests will be more closely considered. We don’t only mean the particular interests of the state involved, but what we may call “common state interests”, interests that states share because of their common nature as states.

In sum, hybridization may be comforting because it entails the assumption that hybrid adjudicators will give more consideration to values and interests of states and society than arbitrators do. It will not only contribute to extending the market of autonomous dispute resolution, but also help it evolve to survive should the forecasted winter finally come.


The diagnosis is comforting, we have said. But is it rightly so? Can we be unqualifiedly content with this?

Even if the object of our profession is indeed good economically, is it thereby good for everyone, or at least for a broader array of stakeholders? How does it, in its current and evolving form, impact states, common interests, society at large? And remember, the question may prove crucial even if we only cater for the interests of our community. If it is not really good beyond for ourselves, good advertising may buy us some time. In the long run, however, should we not expect a pushback, a backlash from those people, those forces who don’t benefit, and possibly suffer, from what we do, from the developments we suggest?

Let us consider the assumptions on which our comforting diagnosis is based.

To begin with, we know that economic growth doesn’t benefit everyone. We now, for instance, that trickle-down economics don’t work. Economic development of some categories of individuals only may in fact increase resentment because of inequity aversion.

What about the “magic” label of the state?

First, will hybridization really increase the representativeness of international dispute settlement adjudication? Will adjudicators really give closer attention to broader interests and values? In fact, nothing indicates that hybrid court judges would be more representative than the existing pool of international arbitrators. And these new bodies are mainly designed to take market shares from local courts, not arbitral tribunals. Should they succeed, this would lead to replace local judges in all their diversity with a much more homogeneous global group of commercially oriented dispute resolution individuals.

Second, how about what we called “common state interests”? In fact, the creation of hybrid mechanisms places states in direct competition. And so it changes the setting: from solidarity of interests to competition of interest. The result is that states acquire an incentive to advance their particular interests as potential hosts of international dispute settlement bodies, to the possible detriment of interests they share with other states. In other words, to prioritize their direct financial interests over broader considerations. And the most efficient way to attract as many international disputes as possible is obviously to grant as much autonomy to potential users and players as possible. But is autonomy really good for everyone? For those who truly are autonomous, perhaps.


So the point is this: it would appear that the developments we are assessing today prioritize financial interests of specific actors over more common interests.

From the perspective of our community, this gives us reason to rejoice, at least in the short term.

From a broader perspective, however, one could wonder whether hybridization is not closer to repackaging than to a real, substantial improvement. Extending the ambit of autonomous dispute resolution arguably will have positive financial externalities.  But it is far from certain that these will be shared and it is doubtful that they will be accompanied by a corresponding increase in societal representativeness.

Brutally simplified in the end, by promoting this evolution, we will perhaps do something good for the economy, perhaps in particular for the economic elites which tend to resort to these sorts of dispute resolution mechanisms. But in doing so we may well fuel the backlash against the entirety of what we do.

We are not invulnerable.

The Crawford Prize Academy

With this little note I’d like to announce the foundation of the Crawford Prize Academy.

I thought it would be good to have some kind of body or entity to support the James Crawford Prize for International Dispute Settlement. So, why not, I created it.

The Crawford Prize Academy is a forum for present and previous James Crawford Prize winners. The mandate of its members is to act as ambassadors for the Prize and to possibly be part of the Prize Committee, which awards the prize.

From now on, the Prize Committee will be composed of a maximum of 11 members: up to 6 of them will be drawn from the Academy, the 5 others will be the four General Editors and the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of International Dispute Settlement.

As ambassadors of the Prize, the members of the Academy are expected to spread the word about the prize and to encourage scholars to submit a paper for it.

The current members of the Academy are:

  • Fuad Zarbiyev, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva (winner of the 2012 prize)
  • Richard Oppong, Thompson Rivers University (winner of the 2014 prize)
  • Joshua Karton, Queen’s University (winner of the 2015 prize)
  • Pietro Ortolani, Max Planck Luxembourg (winner of the 2016 prize)
  • Jean d’Aspremont, University of Manchester and very soon Sciences Po Paris (winner of the 2017 prize)

A warm thank you to all of them. Kind thanks also go to Oxford University Press, for their sponsorship of the prize, and of course to James Crawford.

This should be fun!

A Tribute to François Ost

This is a talk I gave on the occasion of a day of celebrations to mark the retirement of François Ost from active duty – which means teaching – at the University of Geneva. The celebrations were organised around his latest book, A quoi sert le droit? François Ost was my mentor (well I guess he still is) and is a dear friend. The talk is in French I’m afraid.


Qui aurait cru? Qui aurait cru que je me retrouverais aujourd’hui, ici, à l’occasion de cette célébration de l’oeuvre intellectuelle de François Ost, de cette opportunité, qui m’est particulièrement chère, de rendre hommage à la pensée ostienne.

Je me souviens de ce jour: c’était un vendredi, il devrait être 14h10, il pleuvait. J’étais au 4ème étage de ce bâtiment; je tournais en rond, comme un lion en cage, devant la salle de cours, attendant nerveusement l’arrivée d’un professeur dont j’espérais tout juste qu’il m’adresse la parole, mais qui au final, sans exagération, a changé ma vie. Je vois enfin arriver un homme au visage marqué par la concentration, à la démarche déterminée, contenant tout juste son impatience. Je me suis dit “ça ne peut pas être un philosophe; il a beaucoup trop les pieds sur terre et il a soif de faire quelque chose.” Nous étions en 1997. Ca fait 20 ans. La moitié de ma vie.

Quelque temps auparavant, j’étais allé voir Robert Roth et Alexis Keller parce que, après 2 ans et demi d’études de droit – les études de droit se faisaient en 4 ans à l’époque – je ne contenais plus, moi, mon impatience, j’avais envie de faire quelque chose, d’étudier la philosophie par exemple, et je ne voyais pas très bien à quoi servait le droit. Robert Roth et Alexis Keller m’avaient tous deux sagement conseillé: n’allez pas juste étudier la philosophie n’importe où, m’ont-ils dit, étudiez la philosophie du droit, et essayez de le faire avec François Ost, si vous avez la chance qu’il vous accepte. (Alexis avait ajouté: si vous n’étudiez pas avec François Ost, alors allez au moins à Cambridge – ce que j’ai fait près de dix ans plus tard; comme quoi je suis les conseils, je prends juste un peu de temps.)

Mais j’en reviens à ce vendredi pluvieux de 1997. Après plusieurs conversations, François me dit: ne venez pas juste en touriste intellectuel à Bruxelles, postulez pour le Master en théorie du droit que je dirige, vous finirez votre licence plus tard. J’en avais été, pour utiliser un euphémisme, agréablement surpris – imaginez la scène: à l’époque je portais un blouson en cuir de rocker, des jeans avec plus de trous que de jean, les cheveux longs et décolorés; pas exactement l’image d’un investissement facile.

S’en est suivi le master à Bruxelles, qui reste sans doute l’expérience intellectuelle la plus concentrée que j’ai eue; puis deux participations, avec François, à la course à pied des 20km de Bruxelles – tu appelais cela “le séminaire le plus sérieux”; puis tu m’as proposé, et convaincu, de faire une thèse de doctorat; puis il y eu les recommandations pour les jobs, les rencontres lors de conférences auxquelles tu m’invitais, les travaux communs, les discussions, joyeuses, sur la voile et, tristes, sur le Brexit. Comme quoi j’avais raison d’être nerveux ce vendredi de 1997, devant ta salle de cours. Ou, pour changer de perspective, si tu es assis là à devoir m’écouter radoter pendant 20 minutes tu ne peux t’en prendre qu’à toi-même.

J’aimerais entretenir aujourd’hui l’hypothèse selon laquelle le droit sert à penser, sert à faire penser, sert à faire penser plus, à faire penser moins, à faire penser différemment. On notera d’ailleurs que la collection chez Bruylant dans laquelle ton livre est publié s’appelle “Penser le droit”. C’est un peu l’hypothèse inverse que j’aimerais interroger. Comme quoi certains s’arrêtent à la lecture de la couverture des livres.

Le droit sert-il donc à faire penser? On répondra pour commencer de la manière sans doute la plus simple en disant que, comme tout bon psychologue le confirmera s’il est vraiment bon, on ne peut réellement bien penser qu’à partir d’un cadre. La pensée, même la plus révolutionnaire, ne s’effectue que par rapport à un cadre, à une référence. Notre tâche la plus fondamentale, sans doute, en tant que parents, est de donner à nos enfants un cadre, pour leur donner une référence à partir de laquelle ils peuvent s’auto-déterminer en pensant par eux-mêmes.

Le droit, véritable petit père du peuple, donne un cadre au rapport social. Plus exactement, il institute la secondarisation du rapport social, comme dirait François Ost, soit le dédoublement du rapport social en ce que l’on pourrait appeler un rapport social spontané, d’un côté, et un rapport social cadré, de l’autre: dans le rapport social spontané, je cite François Ost, “c’est l’immédiateté, l’imprévisibilité, l’illimitation”. Avec le passage au droit, je cite toujours François Ost, “tout se formalise: plus d’arrangement, mais des procédures, plus de faveurs, mais des droits, plus de menaces, mais des sanctions”. Le droit permet donc, dans cette perspective, de penser le rapport social, de se penser soi-même dans le rapport social, à partir d’un certain cadre, un cadre formalisé, le cadre juridique.

A vrai dire, c’est même la pensée du rapport social, la pensée dans un rapport social, qui se secondarise, qui se dédouble: avec le droit je peux penser mes rapports sociaux à la fois de manière humaine primaire – marquée par les faveurs, les sanction, les émotions, le charme… que sais-je – et de manière juridique – on rencontre ici ces outils de pensée que sont les droits (au sens d’avoir des droits), les règles, le passage par le tiers… etc.

Bref, le droit sert ici à dédoubler la pensée. Dès lors que le droit fait irruption dans la vie sociale, je peux penser, je peux me penser, comme individu, avec un visage, et comme individu juridique, fongible, générique.

On pourrait encore continuer l’exercise et concevoir, comme François Ost le note en filigrane, le détriplement du rapport social et de la personne qui constitue le rapport social, en passant aux droits de l’homme, catégorie à part de droit. Les triplés sont ici les suivants: moi, Thomas, avec un visage; moi, personne juridique, et juridiquement fongible, détenteur de droits parce que je suis une personne juridique; moi, être humain, détenteur de droits de l’homme parce que je suis un être humain. Je peux désormais penser, et me penser, en tant que personne, en tant que personne juridique, et tant qu’être humain au sens des droits de l’homme.

Le droit sert donc ici à faire penser, à faire penser plus. Un propos qui devrait sans doute ravir un public de juristes.

Mais le droit peut aussi, il faut bien le reconnaître, servir à faire penser moins, à réduire notre intelligence.

On peut envisager cette thèse de manière caustique, voire cynique, comme le fait par exemple Pierre Schlag, un philosophe du droit belge émigré depuis toujours aux Etats-Unis, où il se plaît à être le bad boy des facultés de droit. Nous autres juristes, explique Schlag, lui-même juriste, nous ne sommes plus que fantômes dès lors que l’on nous enlève règle et méthode, dès lors que l’on nous enlève la méthode juridique et des règles à appliquer, nous ne savons pas décider sans règle et sans méthode et devenons alors des bateaux fantômes errant sur l’océan des possibles.

Très bien, répondra-t-on alors, courageusement, une fois l’offense de la critique passée, très bien, si nous sommes perdus sans méthode eh bien ne nous défaisons pas de la méthode et restons dans le rôle qui nous est assigné, que le droit nous assigne, à nous juristes.

C’est à ce moment que Schlag fait appelle au détective Dupin – ce personnage qui a pris vie sous la plume d’Edgar Allan Poe et qui a conduit plus tard à Sherlock Holmes et au genre des histoires de détectives, y compris nos séries TV favorites.

La scène à laquelle Schlag fait référence est tirée de la nouvelle La lettre volée. On l’aura compris, une lettre a été dérobée. Son contenu est incendiaire et pourrait bien porter une atteinte sérieuse à la famille royale. L’identité du voleur présumé est connue. La police se rend à son domicile. Après une recherche approfondie, méthodique, la lettre reste introuvable. Pourtant divers indices indiquent qu’elle doit bien se trouver là, dans l’appartement. Un coursier est dépêché auprès du détective Dupin, sollicitant son aide de toute urgence. Ce dernier, après un examen des lieux d’à peine quelques minutes, s’arme d’un rictus et annonce au commissaire que, effectivement, la lettre se trouve bien dans l’appartement. L’erreur de la police, explique-t-il, est sa méthode. “Mais comment”, répond le commissaire, “nous avons appliqué notre méthode avec le plus grand soin et la plus extrême rigueur, nous avons suivi les règles de notre méthode avec la plus grande diligence: nous avons avons subdivisé l’appartement en champs distincts, clairement délimités, nous avons assigné une équipe différente à chaque champ, qui a son tour a subdivisé chaque subdivision, nous avons tout regardé, tout consulté, examiné au microscope chaque jointure de meuble, chaque fente du parquet.” “La précision et l’exactitude, la rigueur et la méthode, ce n’est pas tout,” révèle Dupin. “La lettre se trouve là, sur le bureau, à la vue de tous. Simplement, le voleur a remplacé le cachet noir original par un cachet rouge plus petit, puis l’a salie pour qu’elle aie l’air d’une vieille missive sans valeur.” C’est la méthode, et peut-être en particulier l’insistance sur la rigueur dans l’application de la méthode, a-t-il sans doute poursuivi, mais l’histoire ne le dit pas, qui vous a empêché d’ouvrir votre esprit, de penser. A force d’insister sur la méthode, nous dirait peut-être Dupin à nous, s’il était là aujourd’hui, sorti des pages d’Edgar Allan Poe, à force d’insister sur la méthode, vous n’attraperez jamais le voleur.

On peut comprendre le cynisme de Schlag – le cynisme, je le rappelle, c’est ce qui reste de la critique quand on a perdu espoir – on peut le comprendre en évoquant très brièvement Hannah Arendt: “plus vaste est la portée de la pensée”, écrit-elle, “plus étendu est le domaine dans  lequel l’individu éclairé est capable de se mouvoir d’un point de vue à un autre.” Plus rigoureuse est la méthode, dirait Schlag, moins vaste est la portée de la pensée, jusqu’au point où l’on ne peut plus se mouvoir du tout d’un point de vue à un autre. Bref, c’est le comble: le droit empêche le juriste de penser et en particulier le juriste rigoureux. Parole de bad boy. De bad boy qui a perdu espoir.

Que le droit empêche de penser, que le droit nous fasse penser moins, n’est cependant pas forcément une mauvaise chose. Il se pourrait bien que faire penser moins est en réalité une fonction du droit, au sens où François Ost l’entend, à la suite du sociologue du droit Vincenzo Ferrari, c’est-à-dire une “tâche assignée au droit”.

Une tâche qui est assurément assignée au droit est de faire justice en rendant une décision dans un cas particulier. Or, le décideur, dirait Kirkegaard, est saisi, dans ce type de situations, de folie, la folie d’arrêter de penser, la folie du décideur, inévitable, nécessaire à la réalisation de la tâche assignée au droit. Jacques Derrida explique la donne: “la justice, si imprésentable qu’elle soit, n’attend pas. C’est ce qui ne doit pas attendre. … Une décision juste est toujours requise immédiatement, ‘right away’. Elle ne peut se donner l’information infinie et le savoir sans limite des conditions, des règles … qui pourraient la justifier. … Et même si elle en disposait, même si elle se donnait le temps, tout le temps et tous le savoir nécessaires à ce sujet, le moment de la décision, en tant que tel, reste toujours un moment fini d’urgence et de précipitation… [Un moment] qui marque toujours l’interruption de la délibération juridico-cognitive qui le précède”. La décision, reprend Derrida, est donc toujours faite “d’urgence et de précipitation, agissant dans la nuit du non-savoir”. “C’est une folie”, conclut-il, qui doit “déchirer le temps et défier les dialectiques”. Mais de toute évidence c’est une folie nécessaire, seule alternative à l’atermoiement infini.

Richard Rorty, le philosophe du pragmatisme, explique plus posément cette vertu sans doute surprenante du droit: le droit sert à fournir des critères de décision et la fonction des critères, dans les mots de Rorty, est “de bloquer le chemin de l’investigation, de mettre un terme à la régression multiple des interprétations, de manière à permettre la réalisation d’une action, to get something done”.

Prenons un peu de recul, élargissons le champ. Dans un monde où l’anti-intellectualisme gagne du terrain et menace nos sociétés, l’idée générale que le droit serve à nous faire penser moins, à réduire notre cognition, d’une certaine manière à nous désintellectualiser, peut paraître inquiétante. Et pourtant, le droit peut justement nous protéger contre l’anti-intellectualisme précisément parce qu’il limite notre cognition. Le droit sert alors à nous empêcher de prendre une décision, et donc de penser en vue de cette décision. Plus exactement, la fonction du droit est quelquefois de distribuer dans le temps, de diluer dans le temps, nos prises de décisions sociétales et la pensée qui l’accompagne.

Je m’explique, et le propos est en réalité très simple: le droit sert quelquefois à ralentir le temps, à ralentir le temps social, à substituer au chronos, le temps qui s’écoule linéairement, progressivement, chronologiquement, à substituer au chronos le kairos, le temps du bon moment, du moment juste. Le droit transcende alors le peuple, écrit François Ost, dont on sait combien il s’est intéressé aux temps du droit, le droit transcende la démocratie et exerce la fonction de garde-fou de la société démocratique en instaurant, et je cite François Ost, “des droits fondamentaux face aux dérives éventuelles du peuple électoral”. J’avais promis que le propos serait simple: je pense ici par exemple aux normes constitutionnelles indérogeables, mais aussi simplement aux normes constitutionnelles plus difficiles à modifier que les lois. “Dans ces hypothèses”, je cite à nouveau François Ost, “le peuple s’est doublement lié [par le droit]: une première fois en se donnant ces institutions fondatrices, une seconde fois en s’interdisant … d’y porter atteinte, [ou à tout le moins en rendant à son soi futur la chose plus difficile].” On s’imagine un prisonnier dans un cachot sombre et humide crier à ses tortionnaires: “Vous voulez un Etat totalitaire, n’y pensez même pas, la constitution l’empêche et vous n’arriverez pas à changer la constitution.” Ou on peut penser à Donald Trump, qui a assurément mis de drôles d’idées dans la tête de certaines personnes; il reviendra justement au droit d’empêcher que ces pensées ne fleurissent outre mesure.

Le droit sert donc, on l’a vu, à penser plus et à penser moins. Mais sert-il également à penser différemment? J’aimerais poser la question sous un angle très spécifique, en considérant le droit non plus comme une technique d’organisation sociale spécifique, mais comme un mode de pensée spécifique. L’hypothèse devient donc celle-ci: face au droit, nous penserions différemment. Très bien, mais comment savoir? Peut-être pas en interrogeant le droit, mais en interrogeant la pensée, si je puis dire: est-ce que la pensée juridique, au sens de cognition juridique, est-ce qu’elle correspond à une manière distincte de penser, est-ce qu’elle correspond à un mécanisme cérébral distinct, est-ce qu’elle correspond à l’activité de régions distinctes du cerveau?

Avant de répondre à la question, je dois d’emblée concéder que le test souffrirait de beaucoup de faux négatifs: ce n’est pas parce que la pensée juridique ne correspond pas à une activité cérébrale distincte, mesurable avec les outils dont nous disposons actuellement, qu’il n’existe pas une manière spécifiquement juridique de penser, que rien ne se passe, pour reprendre la formule de François Ost, que rien ne se passe cognitivement quand on passe au droit. On pourra pousser l’implication de la question encore un cran plus loin: l’identité du droit n’est-elle vraiment rien d’autre qu’une convention sociale, comme le soutiendrait un positiviste moderne comme Andrei Marmor par exemple, ou est-ce qu’à l’identité conceptuelle du droit correspondrait une identité cognitive, neurophysiologique? De toute évidence, le droit est une invention humaine beaucoup trop récente pour avoir pu impacter significativement l’évolution génétique du cerveau, et on ne s’attendra donc pas à trouver un mécanisme cérébral spécifique au droit, mais peut-être que la pensée juridique correspond à une combinaison spécifique de mécanismes cérébraux, autant d’ingrédients qui, mélangés judicieusement, donne le fameux thinking like a lawyer…

La question, comme bon nombre de questions intéressantes d’ailleurs, est plus longue que la réponse. La réponse est limitée en partie parce qu’elle a été très peu étudiée. Néanmoins, il semblerait qu’à tout le moins l’on puisse distinguer la pensée juridique de certaines autres formes de pensée qui lui sont socialement proches. Ainsi l’une des études les intéressantes – qui en fait a été menée par mon frère ainé; peut-être suis-je un peu biaisé quant à son intérêt – cette étude donc, réalisé à University College London il y a une dizaine d’années, à montré que le droit diffère de la justice sur le plan des mécanismes cérébraux impliqués. Un certain nombre de sujets, de personnes, ont été placés dans un scanner et on leur a demandé de rendre une décision dans une affaire juridique. Un groupe devait rendre la décision en application du droit et l’autre en application de leur sens de la justice. Si les décisions ne différaient pas forcément beaucoup, les mécanismes cérébraux pour y arriver, eux, différaient de manière notable. Bien entendu l’étude, comme beaucoup de bonnes études, ouvre davantage de questions qu’elle n’en ferme. L’auteur de l’étude lui-même reconnaît de surcroît, de manière informelle, que l’étude souffre de difficultés méthodologique. Mais bon, comme en science, la vérité, c’est ce qui est publié dans les revues scientifiques, pour l’instant nous pouvons dire que le droit semble nous faire penser au moins un peu différemment du point de vue neurophysiologique.

Le droit pourrait donc servir à faire penser, quelquefois plus, quelquefois moins, toujours différemment. On pourrait encore se poser la question, en conclusion, de savoir si c’est une bonne chose. J’aimerais y répondre d’une manière assez typique de François Ost, en faisant jouer la dialectique, en mettant en tension, en conflit même, des idées opposées. Le point de départ peut être trouvé dans la pensée du philosophe de l’anarchisme, mais aussi de la tolérance, Robert Paul Wolff.

Le propos de Wolff, dans son ouvrage In Defense of Anarchism, dans lequel il prend pour cible l’autorité du droit, le propos est que, surtout, ne faisons pas confiance au droit, car on ferait alors confiance au législateur, à son bon sens et à sa rationalité – rationalité qui n’est qu’un mythe, comme on le sait depuis l’ouvrage de François Ost et Jacques Lenoble en 1980 intitulé Droit, mythe et raison. Essai sur la dérive mytho-logique de la rationalité juridique. Surtout, nous exhorte Wolff, surtout n’obéissons pas au droit parce qu’il est droit, surtout ne pensons pas différemment vis-à-vis du droit que nous le ferions vis-à-vis de n’importe quel autre obstacle sur le chemin de la réalisation de nos décisions, qui, elles, doivent être mûrement réfléchies: le droit est ramené au même niveau que toute autre règle, toute autre contrainte ou incitation, un déterminant de comportement dont l’autorité est similaire, par exemple, à celle de nos besoins physiologiques (ce qui n’est pas rien: il va bien falloir que j’arrête de parler pour que nous puissions aller manger).

Bref, pour Wolff, il n’y a aucune raison de changer notre manière de penser juste parce qu’une règle, une décision porte le label “droit”. On comprendra sans doute où il voulait en venir si l’on considère qu’il écrivait à la fin des années 60, aux Etats-Unis, alors en pleine prise avec la guerre du Vietnam. Pour Wolff, il y a quelque chose d’anti-intellectuel dans le droit, dans l’autorité du droit, dans l’autorité que nous accordons, et que ne devrions pas accorder, au droit.

Le droit, pourrait-on dire sur cette trajectoire de pensée, se met ainsi en travers du fameux Selbstdenken de Hannah Arendt: la pensée par soi-même, autonome. Au fond, pour le dire très simplement, l’idée de Wolff est que le droit menace de faire de nous des moutons. Nous devrions plutôt, explique-t-il, à chaque fois que nous rencontrons une règle juridique qui nous dicte un comportement, nous devrions à chaque fois investiguer et mettre en tension l’ensemble de nos raisons d’action, prudentielles et morales, pour décider de la conduite à adopter.

Mais bien entendu, à force de selbstdenken on aura perdu dans l’affaire une bonne partie du lien social que le droit est censé instituer. La règle juridique n’est plus qu’une offre dans une négociation sociale permanente entre l’Etat et les citoyens, qui sont encouragés à faire la contre-offre non seulement de la désobéissance civile mais également celle du simple contournement de la règle. Le droit n’est même plus, dans cette approche, un réel repère normatif, car l’on est passé du “tu dois” au registre mécanique du “si tu fais ceci, voici ce qui se passera”. La diffusion des valeurs par le droit n’est alors plus que incidente, accidentelle.

On est ainsi pris dans la tension entre la révolte libératrice et la nostalgie d’un cadre de valeurs perdu.

Au terme de cet exposé, une seule certitude se dégage: le droit aura servi à nous faire penser nous, à me faire penser moi, et aura donc servi à rendre hommage à François Ost, le grand penseur du droit.

James Crawford Prize 2017

I’m very pleased to be able to announce that the winner of the 2017 James Crawford Prize for International Dispute Settlement is Jean d’Aspremont, for his article ‘The International Court of Justice and the Irony of System-Design’.

Warm congratulations to Jean d’Aspremont for a nicely provocative article on the idea of international law as a legal system. The article will be included in the next issue of JIDS (Volume 8, Issue 2), and is currently available on Oxford University Press’s website in ahead-of-print publication.

James Crawford Prize 2016

The 2016 James Crawford Prize for International Dispute Settlement, awarded by the Journal of International Dispute Settlement and Oxford University Press, goes to Dr Pietro Ortolani, of the Max Planck Institute Luxembourg, for his paper The Three Challenges of Stateless Justice.

The paper argues that if we want to obtain a meaningful understanding of the rapidly emerging systems of stateless justice, which operate within private autonomous legal orders, we need to take up three core challenges: clarify the relationship between justice and authority without falling prey to our state-centrist habits; work out the appropriate structures of the processes; and determine what the essential functions of justice are and how they can be fulfilled by stateless systems. Using Bitcoin as a case study, the article develops a new epistemic model to understand justice outside of the state – a model divorced from the theoretical framework of state authority.

It will be published on the journal’s website by the end of April, and included in print in the journal’s third issue for 2016.

Many congratulations to Dr Ortolani.


New JIDS issue, on empirical research in investment arbitration

We have published, late last week, a special issue of the Journal of International Dispute Settlement on Empirical Studies on Investment Disputes. I’m nearly always proud of what I do, because the expectations are low to start with, but this thing makes me particularly happy. I think it shows, once again, how much and how easily we lawyers can learn from our neighbours’ disciplines – in this case political science, economics, development studies. That’s also, quite precisely, why we are now extending the overall purview of the journal  beyond strict legal approaches, to include relevant areas in the social sciences and humanities. This special issue marks that extension. There’ll be more of it.

To help us make the point, Oxford University Press kindly suggested to make this issue free to read online for a month, starting about now I think.

So here’s what we have in the issue:



Thomas Schultz

J Int. Disp. Settlement 2016 7: 1-2


Special Issue Articles

Towards a New Heuristic Model: Investment Arbitration as a Political System

Cédric Dupont and Thomas Schultz

J Int. Disp. Settlement 2016 7: 3-30


Foreign Investment, Development and Governance: What international investment law can learn from the empirical literature on investment

Jonathan Bonnitcha

J Int. Disp. Settlement 2016 7: 31-54


Do BITs ‘Work’? Empirical Evidence from France

Jason Webb Yackee

J Int. Disp. Settlement 2016 7: 55-71


Diplomats Want Treaties: Diplomatic Agendas and Perks in the Investment Regime

Lauge N. Skovgaard Poulsen and Emma Aisbett

J Int. Disp. Settlement 2016 7: 72-91


Investment Treaties and the Internal Vetting of Regulatory Proposals: A Case Study from Canada

Gus Van Harten and Dayna Nadine Scott

J Int. Disp. Settlement 2016 7: 92-116


Recent Trends in Investor–State Dispute Settlement

Rachel L. Wellhausen

J Int. Disp. Settlement 2016 7: 117-135


Political Risk and Investment Arbitration: An Empirical Study*

Cédric Dupont, Thomas Schultz, and Merih Angin

J Int. Disp. Settlement 2016 7: 136-160


Secrecy in International Investment Arbitration: An Empirical Analysis

Emilie M. Hafner-Burton and David G. Victor

J Int. Disp. Settlement 2016 7: 161-182


Inside the Black Box: Collegial Patterns on Investment Tribunals

Todd Tucker

J Int. Disp. Settlement 2016 7: 183-204


Political Risk Insurance as Dispute Resolution

Clint Peinhardt and Todd Allee

J Int. Disp. Settlement 2016 7: 205-224


Comity in Australia

Academically, the principle of comity is all but dead. Not only is there a distinct lack of literature regarding the principle, but in circumstances where it is addressed it is considered to be of negligible importance for the resolution of modern private international law disputes. However, a review of Australian case law demonstrates that there is a significant disjunct between the academic view of comity and its actual use in judicial practice. In the last ten years, over 850 Australian court decisions have made reference to comity – many of which relate to the field of private international law. In this article, the authors review 77 Australian cases where comity played a definitive role in the resolution of private international law issues. These cases demonstrate that comity is a relevant, useful legal tool to guide the development and application of private international law rules – doing so in a manner that helpfully mediates between the political need to uphold the doctrine of sovereignty and the commercial and judicial need to permit law to act transnationally in order to accommodate international commerce. This is the purpose for which comity was created almost 400 years ago and the examined case law demonstrates that it continues to be effective in reflecting these interests in the law.

Read the paper, by Jason Mitchenson and me, here.

Investment Arbitration as a Political System

Investment arbitration is usually viewed as an international legal dispute resolution mechanism. This means not only that it is a mechanism in which law is applied, when arbitrators render decisions applying law to facts, and to which law is applied, when questions are entertained regarding the conditions under which arbitrators can render such decisions, the limits of such decision-making, and its effects. The idea that investment arbitration is viewed as a legal dispute resolution mechanism also means that, when we try to understand it, we concentrate on legal rules and principles. We examine the relevant law, in its different aspects and manifestations, in order to form our understanding of investment arbitration.

At other times, which are also fairly habitual, investment arbitration is viewed as a business instrument. This may mean that it does or should serve the interests of business or, alternatively, that individual arbitrations should be conducted in some form of business-like fashion, and ultimately, that there is a business of investment arbitration. At a different level, the idea that investment arbitration is viewed as a business instrument also means that, when we try to understand it, we concentrate on business reflexes, on the interests of its different stakeholders, on their utility functions and how these functions reveal preferences, perceived or conscious, rational or not, and how these preferences translate into, precisely, business strategies. The resulting image we obtain from such an approach is already quite different from the picture produced by the legal approach sketched in the preceding paragraph.

Less frequently, investment arbitration is viewed as a legal system of its own, just like other types of international arbitration or precisely in opposition to them. This may mean that the label of law was successfully affixed to this legal phenomenon, thus supplying an additional illustration of legal systems that are neither national law nor international law. Another meaning may be that it operates with a certain level of autonomy from states control, a degree of autonomy we associate with the demarcation of two legal systems. Yet another may be that perhaps it should strive for a certain type of internal consistency, a degree of predictability that we attribute to the rule of law, a form of dependable signposting that we have come to associate with the very idea of what counts as law. At a different level, the idea that investment arbitration is viewed as a legal system means that, when we try to understand it, we use roles, relations between actors, mechanisms of accountability, pursuits of values that are taken from national and other well studied legal systems. They lead us to see workings of investment arbitration that neither the legal nor the business approach put to light.

Some of these views are descriptive: they offer a description of arbitration, an account of what it is. We falsify them by pointing to an inaccuracy, to an aspect of arbitration that the account has failed to represent satisfactorily. Other views are normative: they prescribe a direction that investment arbitration should take, a goal it ought to attain. We counter them, for instance, by axiological debates (or simply by academically voting for other alternatives).

Still other views are neither descriptive (properly speaking) nor normative: they make no claim, as a theory, to be accounting for what is really happening, for what investment arbitration actually is; nor do they argue about how it should develop or change. They simply claim that, if we look at investment arbitration from a certain perspective, pretending it is a certain thing, we gain a useful understanding of its workings, an understanding that other views do not reveal. If, for instance, we view investment arbitration as the court of the international investment regime, we understand certain relationships between arbitral tribunals and some constituencies. But it does not mean that we posit that investment arbitration is a court or should be a court. Such views are closer to metaphors than to pictures. This is what a heuristic view, or model is. (Or, to be precise, this is the meaning of a heuristic model that we use in this article.) As Ludwig Wittgenstein put it, “The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something – because it is always before one’s eyes).” The point of a heuristic model is to make familiar things unfamiliar, and thereby make them differently noticeable. Such a heuristic approach takes to an extreme the idea, expressed for instance by Karl Popper, Bertrand Russel, and Ernest Nagel in economics, that complete and infallible knowledge is impossible, and focuses on what the heuristic view allows us to understand instead of what it fails to correctly account for: this is why it is not, strictly speaking, a descriptive view.

Our claim is that one way to make better sense of the fragmented knowledge we have today of investment arbitration is to view it as a political system: one that transforms the input of key actors into output, with feedback loops from the latter to the former. This heuristic model, we contend, allows us to bring together in an intelligible way some of the key insights of legal approaches and political science approaches to investment arbitration. To be clear, we do not seek to provide anything near a complete account of neither the legal nor the political science aspects of investment arbitration. We do not, either, suggest that any of the existing accounts is inaccurate. And we do not argue that investment arbitration is a political system or that it should be a political system. We simply contend that seeing investment arbitration as political system allows us to bring out elements of its workings with greater clarity, helping us to form an additional understanding that is particularly expressive of the actions and interactions of the various actors of investment arbitration, their uses of it and their adaptations to it. We claim that, altogether, this helps us get a better, simpler sense of some of the key dynamics of investment arbitration.

Read the rest here: Cédric Dupont and Thomas Schultz, ‘Towards a New Heuristic Model: Investment Arbitration as a Political System‘ Journal of International Dispute Settlement, 2016, forthcoming.


Political risk and investment arbitration – again

In June, I had posted a note here reporting our findings on the relationship between the political risk an investor is exposed to in the country hosting its investment, and the likelihood that this investor will eventually file an investment arbitration claim to redress the effects of the materialisation of that risk. These findings were about oil and gas.

We’ve now expanded our study to all sectors of the economy.

Here’s the abstract:

Investment arbitrations should not happen too often, because they are costly processes for both parties. Yet they regularly happen. Why? We investigate the hypothesis that investment arbitrations are used as a means of last resort, after dissuasion has failed, and that dissuasion is most likely to fail in situations were significant political risk materializes. Investment arbitration should thus tend to target countries in which certain types of political risk has materialized. In order to test this hypothesis, we focus in this paper on two drivers of political risk: bad governance, and economic crises. We test various links between those two drivers of risk and arbitration claims. We use an original dataset that includes investment claims filed under the rules of all arbitration institutions as well as ad hoc arbitrations. We find that bad governance, understood as corruption and lack of rule of law (using the WGI Corruption and WGI Rule of Law indexes), has a statistically significant relation with investment arbitration claims, but economic crises do not.

In sum, the fact that a country is hit by an economic crisis does not seem to increase the chance that it will be sued in an investment arbitration.

Surprising? Perhaps not. When hit by an economic crisis, a country may become cautious and willing to negotiate more than on average.

The paper’s Cédric Dupont, Thomas Schultz and Merih Angin, ‘Political Risk and Investment Arbitration: An Empirical Study‘, Journal of International Dispute Settlement, 2016, forthcoming.

International Arbitration Scholarship: Forms, Determinants, Evolution

We have spilled much ink, we as a community, in our discussion of international arbitration. Much of it we have used on specific technical aspects of the laws and rules that apply to it, or that apply in it. A great deal too has gone to how good procedures are to be conducted. And increasingly, of late, we have written on how arbitration works beyond the rules – the rules which reflect some (but only some) of its true operations. We have taken interest in its broader social and economic significance. We are, now and then, zooming out from the bolts and screws and consider it at the level of an entire system. Engagements with problems that truly vex – truly vex beyond offering legal conundrums or presenting complicated logistical puzzles – no longer stand out today as so many sore thumbs. Or much less so.

Why? And where is it going? Why and how is international arbitration scholarship evolving? What are, to start with, its forms today? And why did we scholars make it what it is? Surely there is something – or rather many somethings – that determine what we write. What could they be?

These are the principal questions I seek to entertain in this chapter, which constitutes my report as research rapporteur for the conference celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Queen Mary School of International Arbitration. It is also, to be fair, part of a bigger project that tries to understand how the thinking about law more generally is produced.

To be clear I do not offer here an elaborate study in the sociology of professions. Nor do I attempt to engage in advanced considerations of what forms the arbitral epistemic community or communities, and what forces animate that community. These are or would be meaningful endeavours, but they are not mine. The outline I offer is of necessity a sketch; I merely want to map a few conventional types of arbitration scholarship and mark some of the possible places where interests can be found that incentivise or constraint research in the field. The ambition is that these types and these interests can inform our perspective when we ponder how the thinking about arbitration law and practice is produced. Accordingly, the propositions I formulate are submitted, in this essay, to rational assent, not to empirical demonstration. Possibly a research programme could be developed to test these propositions. But this is not the point of this essay. Its point is heuristic.

I believe there is an important general point about arbitration that comes from thinking in particular about how scholarship on arbitration is produced. The general point is about what is likely to become of arbitration, about the support it will garner, the pains that will be visited on it, and the changes and adaptations that will be required of it – required of it and of its participants and stakeholders. Arbitration is indeed a fairly technical field, a fairly complex area of the law. And so it often appears that political powers have difficulties in understanding its intricacies, let alone in developing a reliable understanding of their own, distinct from what our discourses showcase – this is the very idea of regulatory capture by an epistemic community. It seems credible, however, that these same political powers will have no difficult in forming an opinion about the allure of the consequences of sundry arbitral regimes, and if their understanding of either the causes or the consequences is muddled by unhelpful discourses, unhappy things are not unlikely to follow.

The chapter moves in four parts. I begin with an overview of different forms of arbitration scholarship, what they seek to achieve and how, what from of thinking they correspond to and how they progress, all of this in quite general terms. This part ends with an impressionist account of the evolution of arbitration scholarship over the last 30 years.

With Part II, I turn to what incentivises and constrains scholarship in the field. I first enter a general approach, which draws heavily on the concept of reasons-for-action, which I combine with basic law & economics tenets. I further introduce a classic distinction between two types of such reasons-for-action.

In Part III, I apply this general approach to identify ways in which the pursuit of other people’s interests may determine what kind of arbitration scholarship we produce. In Part IV, the focus shifts, within the same approach, to the advancement of our own interests when we write on arbitration.

A final clarification bears noting: my stance is not evaluative. The intent of my chapter is not to dwell on the virtues and demerits of arbitration scholarship, or even, as I already said, to supply evidence of what it is we really do. I simply offer, without much further adornment, a lens for everyone to look at arbitration scholarship from the vantage of their own search.

Read more here.