New Arbitration Rules of the Saudi Centre for Commercial Arbitration
On 1 May 2023, the Saudi Centre for Commercial Arbitration (“SCCA”) published its revised Arbitration Rules (the “2023 Rules”), which aims at strengthening the governance and efficiency of SCCA arbitration. The revised Rules mark the latest instalment in a series of developments that seek to bring Saudi Arabia’s legal and regulatory arbitration framework in line with best practices in international arbitration. This blog post highlights the main changes for international arbitration proceedings conducted under the 2023 Rules.
The 2023 Rules – Key changes
The 2023 Rules replace the 2018 Arbitration Rules which had been in force since 15 October 2018 and, according to the SCCA, they seek to embody “the best practices followed by major international arbitration centres”. The 2023 Rules came into force on 1 May 2023 and apply to SCCA arbitrations commenced on or after that date (Article 2). The key changes under the 2023 Rules pertain to (i) the establishment of the SCCA Court; (ii) the scope of the arbitral tribunal’s discretionary powers; (iii) the endorsement of various technological tools; (iv) the improvement of arbitration timelines; and (vi) implementation of other emerging practices in international arbitration
It is also worth noting that Shariah principles no longer feature in the 2023 Rules (as they did in Article 31 of the previous version). However, Shariah principles will continue to apply in the context of arbitrations seated in Saudi Arabia, as well as in the context of enforcement of awards before the Saudi Courts.
Introducing the SCCA Court
The 2023 Rules introduce the SCCA Court, which is an independent body akin to the arbitration courts of a number of arbitral institutions around the world, such as the ICC Court, comprising 15 international arbitration experts from over 12 countries and including arbitrators, academics, leading practitioners, and retired judges. The SCCA Court is tasked with the management and determination of various issues typically arising during the course of arbitral proceedings in respect of, inter alia: (i) the appointment of arbitrators (including emergency arbitrators); (ii) challenges to arbitrators; (iii) disagreement as to the place of arbitration; and (iv) review and approval of draft awards.
Expanding the scope of the arbitral tribunal’s discretionary powers
The 2023 Rules expressly recognise the arbitral tribunal’s discretion to determine various issues, with a view to guaranteeing the efficiency of the arbitration, as well as to safeguard the integrity of the proceedings. Arbitral tribunals are vested with, amongst others, the following powers:
- reject changes in party representation as a safeguard against, notably, conflicts (Article 9.3);
- determine the appropriateness of holding a hearing and the mode and format of the same (Article 29);
- encourage parties to resolve their dispute by negotiation or mediation (Article 25.7); and
- limit the length of written submissions, requests for document production, or the testimony of any witness (Article 27).
Accommodating technological developments
The SCCA follows in the footsteps of major arbitral institutions endorsing the use of technology. Importantly, the 2023 Rules allow:
- electronic filing of documents (Article 4);
- the conduct of an administrative conference prior to constitution of the arbitral tribunal by means of remote communication (Article 10);
- determination by the arbitral tribunal as to “the extent to which technology shall be used in view of all the circumstances of the case” (Article 25(2));
- the arbitral tribunal to determine if a hearing will be conducted, in whole or part, by videoconference or other appropriate means of communication (Article 29(2));
- the signing of awards electronically by the tribunal, subject to applicable law (Article 36); and
- opting into the Online Dispute Resolution Procedure Rules where total amount in dispute is below SAR 200,000 i.e. currently below US$ 53,000 (Appendix 4, Article 1).
The 2023 Rules introduce and/or revise applicable timelines to “assist in predicting the duration of arbitrations” thereby encouraging arbitrators to timely issue their awards. In particular:
- emergency arbitrators are required to issue interim awards or orders within 14 days from the transmission of the case file (Appendix 2, Article 7); and
- arbitral tribunals are required to issue final awards within 75 days from the close of proceedings (Article 33).
Other significant changes
The 2023 Rules also introduce several other changes, aiming to address contemporary issues in international arbitration. Some changes in this regard include:
- the possibility for parties to deal with multi-contract disputes in a single arbitration (Article 11);
- the power of the SCCA Court to consolidate two or more arbitrations in certain circumstances (Article 13) and of the arbitral tribunal to coordinate parallel arbitral proceedings (Article 14);
- mandating disclosure of third-party funders or other non-parties with an economic interest in the outcome of the arbitration (Article 17.6);
- additional grounds for arbitrator challenges in circumstances where an arbitrator has failed to perform their duties or manifestly does not possess the agreed qualifications (Article 18.1);
- the power of the arbitral tribunal to, upon a party’s application, dispose of issues of jurisdiction, admissibility or legal merit early in proceedings (Article 26);
- the power of the SCCA to publish redacted awards in the absence of an objection by any party (Article 36.3); and
- limited scrutiny (as to form) of arbitral awards by the SCCA Court (Article 36.4).
The SCCA was established in 2014 and so, despite a growing profile and caseload, remains a relatively new player in international arbitration. The 2023 Rules evidence a commitment on its part to conduct arbitral proceedings in line with global standards and to further cement its role in the region. Time, and the response of regional users, will tell whether this objective is fulfilled.