Jonathan Wood, Ciarb’s President, on the importance of relevance and adaptability

After a long relationship with Ciarb, Jonathan Wood FCIArb takes the helm as President. He shares his plans for the year ahead, explains why the organisation is poised to take advantage of opportunities, and looks back at the changes arbitration has gone through. 

“In my presidential year, relevance is key,” explains Jonathan. His focus in 2024 is on futureproofing Ciarb, including improving its finance and IT systems. The aim is to be as serviceable to the membership as possible, particularly as private dispute resolution becomes increasingly relevant in myriad sectors. “The services we deliver and educate people on are relevant to all sorts of relationships which have broken down,” he continues. 

Prior to his presidential year, Wood served for five years as Chair of the Board of Trustees, and eight years as a Trustee, overseeing significant growth and change for Ciarb. “Perhaps our biggest achievement was to change the governance of Ciarb, which was a long, drawn-out process. But, we got there and I’m very pleased with the outcome,” he explains. His next step is ensuring Ciarb’s vision, strategy, and the implementation of that strategy is supported by effective communication. 

A global reach 

Aside from helping the organisation to reach its goals, the part of his presidency Wood is looking forward to the most is meeting a wide range of Ciarb’s members and partners from different backgrounds. He continues, “We are a people-business, and meeting people from different situations and backgrounds is the most interesting aspect of being president at Ciarb.” 

An enthusiastic people-person, Ciarb’s President has had a wide and varied career. Unlike most arbitrators, Wood started his career as a criminal defence lawyer. He took the UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of a Hungarian prisoner in 1976. In another high-profile case, he defended the mother who was charged with the murder of her baby on the basis it was a cot death. “After that, I changed my career to commercial law, and represented the British Government’s export credit agency, where I negotiated with foreign governments all over the world and dealt with big business,” he says. He also has expertise in the international art world, including the recovery of stolen artefacts; one highlight was the repatriation of a 14th century icon for the Cleveland Museum of Art, USA. 

While Wood’s career path has encompassed many different areas of the law, it’s his soft skills that he believes have served him the best over his long career. He cites “dedication, a thirst for the law, geniality, getting on with people, and adaptability” as vital skills that have put him in good stead. “There’s a big difference between the areas that I have practiced in, but they’ve all been very enjoyable. It’s that adaptability that has served me well over my career,” he explains. 

As someone who has been involved in arbitration for many years, he has witnessed numerous changes, but the biggest change is in the field of technology. “Technology has changed from the days when we relied on telephones, typewriters and telexes, then we moved into faxes and email – and now we’re in the world of AI,” he says. 

Opportunities and challenges 

Looking to the future, Jonathan believes there are huge opportunities for Ciarb in the next few years. In particular, he notes the new Branches and Chapters that Ciarb is developing, for example, in the Middle East and East Asia. “There is a real thirst for what we do. I see this as an opportunity to seize – and take the institute forward,” he enthuses. Over his many years in arbitration, one of the biggest changes he’s witnessed is the global expansion of arbitration. “The growth has been very important for us – and our members.” 

However, opportunities are often balanced by challenges, and Wood is keen to face them head on. He acknowledges that it’s an increasingly difficult and complex world. “I think it’s important that the ability to resolve disputes in a constructive way is introduced to various sectors of the world. From an institutional point of view, there is a lot of competition out there – and competition is healthy. We need to be ahead of the game, and make sure we remain the gold-standard for providing education and leadership.” 

Regarding his legacy as Ciarb President, Wood says, “A year as President is a mere splash in the ocean. What I hope to achieve is an increased coming together – and togetherness – of our members and those who want to work with us.” Calling upon his extensive maritime arbitration experience, he compares being President at an organisation like Ciarb to steering a ship on the high seas. “It’s very important that we keep it steady and stable but continuing to move forward.” 

Read: Jonathan Wood on Vis Moot, opening a new Branch, and what's next