Jonathan Wood, Ciarb President on Vis Moot, opening a new Branch, and what’s next

Jonathan Wood FCIArb, Ciarb President, updates us on his busy first quarter and shares highlights of his presidential year so far. 

In a volatile world where the geopolitical situation is on everyone’s mind, friendship and resolving the disputes in a human way remains so important. In my capacity as Ciarb’s President, I talk to people from countries where there are disputes going on. Community and purpose are increasingly important and there is a strong sense of community amongst our members. It’s crucial that we reach everyone, and they feel supported by us. 

The enthusiasm of Ciarb members around the world has been incredible: I’ve never had quite so many people approach me for a selfie! The passion of the membership internationally is heartwarming. 

It’s been an incredibly busy and rewarding first quarter. The presidential year started with the Alexander Lecture given by Toby Landau KC C.Arb FCIArb. It was the first major event that I had the pleasure of hosting – and was an absolute treat. Shortly afterwards, I had dinner with the North West Branch at their AGM. It was great to meet the committee, who made me feel right at home. The Chair, Nikki Sharp FCIArb, was about to go on maternity leave, and we look forward to welcoming a new member! 

In February, we co-hosted the London Pre-Moot with Fox Williams. Peter Ashford FCIArb moderated the panel discussion, which I participated in as a panellist. It was rather exciting, and just a taster of things to come as we prepared to attend the 31st Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot, Vienna, in March. 

The highlight so far was appearing at the House of Lords Committee to give evidence on the Arbitration Bill on behalf of Ciarb. This took place after we issued a response to the Call for Evidence from the House of Lords Special Public Bill Committee on the Bill to Amend the Arbitration Act 1996 (Arbitration Bill). 

A new Branch 

Ciarb’s CEO Catherine Dixon MCIArb and I attended Riyadh International Disputes Week (RIDW24) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in March. For a first-time event, RIDW24 was able to attract an impressive 1,200 attendees and was supported by law firms and experts in the field of construction and technology from all over the world. KSA is on a mission with its Saudi 2030 Vision to create a thriving economy where everyone has the opportunity to succeed. The event was a reflection of the power and support that vision is being given by the government, which includes making provision for new laws, bringing themselves in line in the commercial sphere, introducing the Vienna Convention, updating other commercial laws, and in particular highlighting the work of the Saudi Center for Commercial Arbitration (SCCA). 

As Ciarb’s President and CEO, Catherine and I had the great honour of officially launching Ciarb Saudia Arabia Branch, the 44th Branch in our network. Since 2019 and in collaboration with the SCCA, Ciarb has delivered over 50 courses in the country. We look forward to training many more professionals in the country with SCCA’s support. 

Both of us participated in various side events, which were extremely interesting and good fun. In Tactical Advantage? The use of technical witnesses in arbitration, which was supported by Advantage RSK, I put the panellists to the test by assuming the role of the naïve foreigner who knew nothing of expert witnesses or arbitration. They rose to the challenge of roleplay brilliantly and the audience enjoyed this offbeat way of running our panel session. 

It was a remarkable experience to be part of - the amount of construction in KSA is staggering, and the new city of Neom is something out of a sci-fi novel. I visited KSA in the 1980s on a regular basis, and I found that things have changed dramatically since that time. 

As a hub for dispute resolution in projects taking place in KSA, many disputes will be resolved by way of arbitration before the SCCA. Our ambition is to provide support and capacity building for alternative dispute resolution in KSA. Together with the SCCA, we have already trained a significant number of neutrals in the region, and we hope to train many more. 

Scottish Branch Conference 

At the Scottish Branch Conference, I had a delightful fireside chat with the Branch Chair Brandon Malone, FCIArb where we shared war stories –including the story about a Scottish contractor building a yellow submarine in the port of Leith that ultimately sank! 

It was good to see so many female adjudicators - both attending and on the panel. Ciarb is at the forefront of encouraging ADR in Scotland, and my takeaway is that while adjudication is thriving, there’s still a way to go for arbitration and mediation. 

Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot 

Every year I’m absolutely amazed by the sheer brilliance of the candidates and the effort they put in at the Vis Moot in Vienna. I sat as arbitrator and, without exception, the students shone. They put me to shame – I never did anything like this when I was a student. It was truly an inspirational event in the beautiful city of Vienna – congratulations to the organisers. 

Our time there culminated in a reception at the British Ambassador’s residence, co-hosted by Ciarb Europe Branch, Ciarb HQ and CMS. Thank you, in particular, to Phillip Landolt, Jacopo Monaci Naldini and Jalal El Abdab from the Branch, who helped to organise it. It was, as usual, a great success! 

ICCA 2024 

ICCA 2024: International Arbitration: A Human Endeavour in Hong Kong took place from 5 to 8 May 2024. I was honoured to be invited as a speaker on the panel Sociology and Education, moderated by Professor Julian Lew KC. 

What’s next? 

The next few months are going to be exceptionally busy. I’m looking forward to the 40th anniversary of the Kenya Branch, which will attract members all over Africa and beyond. After that, I will be attending Bucharest Arbitration Day from 6 to7 June 2024. My only regret is having to decline invitations – I hope to have more chances to speak and meet with our members. If you do see me, please do come and say hello! 

Read: Jonathan Wood on the importance of relevance and adaptability