Ask An Expert: Joe Liu

Joe Liu, Managing Counsel at the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, speaks about transparency, education and trends in Asia’s dispute resolution market.

What is your current role in dispute resolution?

The Hong Kong International arbitration Centre (HKIAC) is a service provider. We provide a wide range of dispute resolution services – arbitration, mediation, adjudication and domain name dispute resolution. I was previously in private practice and throughout my career I have specialised in international commercial and treaty arbitrations.

How is the market currently addressing parties’ needs?

The market has been evolving quickly to address parties’ needs. The dispute resolution community is very conscious in taking steps to facilitate reforms and the main arbitration institutions have been very proactive in this regard. A broad range of dispute resolution mechanisms have already been made available to users, and there are more to come.  Many users may have heard of those mechanisms, but may not fully appreciate the differences.

Major institutions, such as the HKIAC, have been working towards enabling users to make an informed choice.  We have been working a lot in emerging markets, visiting China, Russia, India, Mongolia, the Philippines and other countries to promote various dispute resolution mechanisms to local governments, commercial entities, lawyers and the judiciary. It is particularly vital to educate local judges about their role in international arbitration.

Which processes do you see being used most frequently?

In my experience, international arbitration has been the process used most frequently, although I have increasingly seen the use of other types of dispute resolution processes, such as domain name dispute resolution and mediation.  As the leading domain name dispute resolution service provider in Asia-Pacific, HKIAC has experienced a strong growth in its domain name caseload over the past few years.

Hybrid dispute resolution methods, such as arb-med, can work if used properly. There are pros and cons of such methods. They have been commonly used in countries such as China, Japan and Germany, but have met with criticism in places like Hong Kong and the US.

The main concerns about the process are the appointment of the same individual as mediator and arbitrator, and his/her use of confidential and privileged information obtained from mediation when deciding a dispute in arbitration. Such concerns could be addressed to some extent by appointing different individuals to act as mediator and arbitrator. This has been done in some of HKIAC’s cases.

Why do you think the East Asian institutions have become so popular?

There are many reasons for the growing popularity of Asian dispute resolution centres. Both Hong Kong and Singapore have a developed legal framework, an independent judiciary, and a vibrant arbitration community, including arbitral institutions which actively lobby government to update arbitration legislation.

For example, the Hong Kong government has been very active in developing the legal infrastructure to make sure the offering of the city stays at the forefront of international arbitration development. In addition, Hong Kong has an independent and pro-arbitration judiciary.

Between 2010 and 2014 the Hong Kong courts did not refuse to enforce any arbitration awards, and along with a solid body of case law they have demonstrated that the Hong Kong courts will not interfere in arbitration except where so provided in the arbitration legislation. Hong Kong also has a specialist judge who deals primarily with arbitration matters.

Another factor leading to the success of arbitration institutions in the region is that Hong Kong and Singapore are actively promoting themselves globally. Both cities are very well positioned and connected. The fact that the English language is used in both cities makes them very popular on an international level.

In addition, Asian parties have stronger and stronger bargaining power, increasingly allowing them to arb