Eiser v. Spain: Reinforcing the Importance of Early Disclosure in Investment Arbitration

By Sumit Chatterjee (National Law School of India University, Bangalore)

An ICSID Committee, chaired by Ricardo Ramirez-Hernandez, recently annulled an arbitral award rendered in favour of a solar power investor in the case of Eiser Infrastructre Ltd. v Republic of Spain. [1] The primary ground on which the award was annulled was the undisclosed relationship between Stanimir Alexandrov, who was one of the arbitrators on the arbitral tribunal that rendered the award, and one of the experts appointed by the Claimants to make their case. The committee came to the conclusion that the undisclosed relationship created a “manifest appearance of bias”, which qualified the threshold of annulment on the grounds of improper constitution of the tribunal, and a serious departure from a fundamental rule of procedure under 52 of the ICSID Rules. [2]

After understanding the decision of the committee, and reconciling the same within the ICSID Rules framework, this post will explore two broader ramifications of this decision on investment arbitration; first, the importance of early disclosure of potential and existing conflicts by arbitrators, and second, the importance of this decision in understanding the double-hatting debate in international arbitration.

Decision of the committee

After the arbitral tribunal chaired by John Cook, and comprising of Stanimir Alexandrov and Campbell McLachlan, had decided the dispute between UK-based infrastructure firm Eiser Infrastructure Ltd. and the Republic of Spain in favour of the former, and ordered Spain to pay €128 million, Spain filed an application to annul the award, and to deliberate upon the same, a three-member committee comprising of Chairman Ricardo Ramírez-Hernández, Dominique Hascher and Teresa Cheng was constituted. After Teresa Chang stepped down from the committee, she was swiftly replaced on the committee by Makhdoom Ali Khan.

Spain had made their case for annulment of the award on two broad grounds. First, that the tribunal had been improperly constituted, under Art. 52(1)(a), as a result of the undisclosed relationship between the nominated arbitrator of the Claimant, Stanimir Alexandrov, and one of the experts of the Brattle group that was appointed by the Claimants, Carlos Lapuerta. The influence that Alexandrov exercised on being a part of the tribunal, and the failure to provide Spain with an opportunity to challenge his appointment on the ground of this relationship, was invoked by Spain to claim a serious departure from a fundamental rule of procedure under Art. 52(1)(d) of the ICSID Rules. Second, they claimed that the tribunal had failed to provide reasons, under Art. 52(1)(e), and had manifestly exceeded their powers, under Art. 52(1)(b), as a result of an improper award of damages.

The committee deliberated on the first ground, and analysed the relationship between Mr. Alexandrov and the expert retained by the Claimants in great detail. It was soon discovered that during the proceedings themselves, Mr. Alexandrov had been acting as counsel of a reputed law firm in other arbitration proceedings, and had employed the services of the Brattle group as experts. Furthermore, in four of these proceedings, the impugned expert, Mr. Lapuerta, had been the testifying expert on behalf of the Brattle group. Thus, these well-established past and present connections between the arbitrator and the expert retained by the Claimants suggested a manifest appearance of bias on the part of the arbitrator, and would thus qualify the threshold under Art. 52(1)(a) of the ICSID Rules to hold that the tribunal had been improperly constituted. The committee referred to the standard laid down in Blue Bank International v Bolivia, [3] by Chairman Kim, wherein it was stipulated that in order to determine whether an arbitrator had failed to comply with the standards of independence and impartiality, the standard should be one of whether “a third party would find an evident or obvious appearance of lack of impartiality on reasonable evaluation of the facts in this case”. [4]

The Committee also stated that the failure on the part of Mr. Alexandrov to disclose this conflict had severe effects on the proceedings themselves, as it hampered the constitution of an independent tribunal, and also adversely affected Spain’s right to a fair arbitration. It thus held that the failure to disclose had a “material effect” on the proceedings, and thus the tribunal had seriously departed from a fundamental rule of procedure under Art. 52(1)(d) of the ICSID Rules. Having considered the first ground sufficient to annul the award rendered by the tribunal, the committee did not delve into the intricacies of the second ground raised by Spain.

The next part of this post will explore the duty of disclosure in the context of investment arbitration, and analyse the decision of the committee from that perspective.

Tracing the contours of the duty to disclose in Investment Arbitration

One of the hallmarks of the arbitral process is having independent and impartial arbitrators on the tribunal to adjudicate the disputes between the parties. While independence and impartiality have often been used interchangeably in the context of understanding the duty of the arbitrators, it is well established that the former refers to a more objective standard of ensuring that the arbitrator does not have any personal, financial or professional ties with any of the parties, witnesses, counsel etc., while the latter is more of a subjective standard that is based on the conduct of the arbitrator during the proceedings. [5] With respect to investment treaty arbitration, the requirement of independence and impartiality assumes much accentuated significance, as a result of the public interest element, and the political and economic ramifications of the decision on the Respondent State. The duty to disclose is a corollary of the independence and impartiality requirement, as it places a positive duty upon the appointed arbitrators to disclose any and all potential and existing conflicts of interest with any of the parties, witnesses, counsel etc. involved in the arbitration. [6] The disclosure is also a safeguard to ensure that the arbitrator is secured from any future challenges on his/her independence or impartiality by one of the parties on the grounds which have been disclosed. [7] Under the ICSID Arbitration Rules of 2003, the disclosure duty is grounded in Article 6, the scope of which was expanded through the amendments made in 2006 to make it a continuing obligation on the part of the arbitrator. [8]

In the Eiser case, the committee assumed the role of a “guardian of the ICSID system [9] and held that the bar must be set high when it comes to disclosure requirements given the importance of early disclosure for a fair and just arbitral process. By holding the same, the committee reinforced the importance of prompt and early disclosure in investment arbitrations. Not only does a disclosure aid the parties in raising a timely challenge to the appointment of the arbitrator if it deems so necessary, it also waives the right of the party from raising such challenge at a later date, or post the rendering of the award, in cases where they fail to make such a challenge within the stipulated time period. The failure of Mr. Alexandrov to make a timely disclosure of the conflict resulted not only in declining Spain the opportunity to challenge his position on the tribunal, but also in influencing the decision of the other members of the tribunal with his continued presence on the tribunal, which in the eyes of the committee, would raise a reasonable suspicion of bias to any independent observer.

While the case certainly emphasised the importance of making prompt and early disclosure of conflicts of interest in Investment Arbitration, it also highlighted an issue that has garnered significant academic interest and debate for a long while: the issue of double-hatting.

Double-hatting in Investment Arbitration: A Necessary Evil?

Double hatting has gained significant traction in the academic discourse on investment arbitration ever since Prof. Phillipe Sands first alluded to the dilemma at the 2009 IBA Conference. [10] It essentially refers to the growing trend in investment arbitration, wherein lawyers who are appointed as arbitrators in particular cases continue to represent other parties as counsel in arbitration proceedings at the same time. Double hatting raises a number of poignant ethical and practical concerns, as a result of the unavoidable conflict of interests that arise in light of the interwoven nexus of relations which lawyers have, both in his/her role as a counsel, and as an arbitrator. One of the overarching concerns in this regard is of role confusion, which refers to the situation where arbitrators try to issue an award that would be favourable for them in a case where they are representing a different client as counsel. [11] Role confusion is also linked to another related concern with double hatting, which is the problem of issue conflict. An issue conflict arises when an arbitrator has to adjudicate on an issue that was in contention in an earlier or ongoing case where he/she served as a counsel, or as an arbitrator. [12] Double hatting thus increases the possibility of an occurrence of issue conflict for an arbitrator, as was evident in the case of Telekom Malaysia Berhad v Ghana, [13] and raise justifiable doubts as to the arbitrator’s impartiality and independence. [14]

The need for reform to combat the predicament of double hatting has been all the more pronounced as a result of the prevailing no-man’s land with respect to ethical standards that prevail in arbitration proceedings, not just for legal counsels, but also for arbitrators. This invigorated call for a reform in the prevailing paradigm has led to a number of recent developments, which also illustrate two extremely different approaches to tackling this predicament.

The Dutch Model BIT has employed a rather extreme approach, explicitly disallowing double hatting, and precluding arbitrators from acting as legal counsels. [15] It also mentions that no arbitrator should have acted as a counsel in any investment arbitration proceeding in the previous five years. [16] Another radical change that the Dutch Model BIT makes is to completely do away with party-appointed arbitrators, and instil the power to appoint arbitrators solely to a competent appointing authority.

This development has come in light of the increasing concern of politicisation of Investor-State arbitrations, and how the appointment of arbitrators to constitute the tribunal accentuate this concern more than any other factor. In fact, in the preliminary identifications of possible areas of reform in investor-state arbitration by the UNCITRAL Working Group III, [17] the concern that arises from completely shifting the burden of appointments from parties to an appointing authority is a re-politicisation of the investment arbitration paradigm. [18] It has been stated, for example, that the influence of States on appointments would continue to exist while the investor would lose out on having any say in the appointment process. While there have been suggestions as to limit the influence of States, and to include investors to be a part of the process, such as screening, consultations etc., there is no black and white position on this issue as of yet. [19]

However, the Working Group III was also responsible for the conceptualisation of the Draft Code of Conduct for Adjudicators in Investor-State Dispute Settlement, released by the ICSID and the UNCITRAL. The Draft Code flags the issue of double-hatting in Article 6, [20] which aims at a “limit on multiple roles” for adjudicators. The Draft Code came into being due to growing concerns about the numerous ethical and practical predicaments in investment arbitration proceedings, due to the different professional relations and roles of the appointed arbitrators. It illustrates the median approach, which seeks to remedy the concerns of double hatting within the prevailing framework in investment arbitration, while also maintaining the balance between the interests of both the investor and the Responding State party in the arbitral process, especially during appointments.

The public interest element, and the fact that proceedings in investment arbitration are indeed public, call for a greater scrutiny of the independence and impartiality of the arbitrators appointed. This tension, between party autonomy in the choice of arbitrators on one hand, and ensuring the right to a fair and independent arbitration on the other, has been the crux of the academic debate surrounding double hatting. And it is in this context that the Eiser case has taken a firm stand. The ICSID committee, by recognising the failure to disclose the conflict as a ground to annul the award, has illustrated the extremely serious implications of double-hatting in an investment arbitration, where it can cast a shadow over a successful award rendered in favour of a party, and ultimately lead to its annulment. Not only does the decision come at a crucial time, given the prevailing debate around double hatting, it also comes as a telling warning for lawyers who serve on tribunals in their roles as arbitrators to recognize and adhere to the duty of being independent and impartial throughout the proceedings. The Eiser case also demonstrated that the wide nexus of connections that a lawyer has, and people he/she engages with in order to represent their clients, leads to a number of potential conflicts, as was observed here with the expert of the Brattle group, retained by the Claimants. Arbitrators must be extremely wary of such conflicts, and comply with the best practice of early and prompt disclosure to the best of their abilities. The jury is still out on whether the setting up of an international investment adjudicatory body is in the best interests of resolving all the problems that exist in the investor-state dispute resolution settlement mechanism, but the Eiser decision has, by taking a firm stand against any minutiae of an appearance of bias, shown that the present system is also well equipped to provide parties what they wish for: a neutral, efficient and fair result.


[1] Eiser Infrastructre Ltd. v Republic of Spain (ICSID Case No. ARB/13/36).

[2] ICSID Rules, Article 52, “(1) Either party may request annulment of the award by an application in writing addressed to the Secretary-General on one or more of the following grounds: (a) that the Tribunal was not properly constituted; (b) that the Tribunal has manifestly exceeded its powers; (c) that there was corruption on the part of a member of the Tribunal; (d) that there has been a serious departure from a fundamental rule of procedure; or (e) that the award has failed to state the reasons on which it is based.”

[3] Blue Bank International v Bolivia (ICSID Case No. ARB/12/20).

[4] Ibid.

[5] The distinction was emphasized in Suez v. Argentina (ICSID Case no. ARB/03/19).

[6]Noah Rubins and Bernard Lauterberg, ‘Independence, Impartiality and Duty of Disclosure in Investment Arbitration’ in Christina Knahr, Chrishtian Koller et al., Investment and Commercial Arbitration – Similarities and Divergences (Eleven International Publshing, 2010).

[7] M.B. Feldman, ‘The annulment proceedings and the finality of ICSID arbitral awards’ [1987] 2(1) ICSID Rev.

[8] ICSID Arbitration Rules (2003), Article 6. Rubins and Lauterberg (n vi).

[9] Cosmo Anderson and Sebastian Perry, ‘Undisclosed expert ties prove fatal to ICSID award’ (Global Arbitration Review, 12 June 2020) < https://globalarbitrationreview.com/article/1227900/undisclosed-expert-ties-prove-fatal-to-icsid-award&gt; accessed 4 July 2020.

[10] Dennis H. Hranitzky and Eduardo Silva Romero, ‘The ‘Double Hat’ in International Arbitration’ (New York Law Journal, 14 July 2010) < https://www.law.com/newyorklawjournal/almID/1202462634101/The-Double-Hat-Debate-in-International-Arbitration/?slreturn=20200731133829&gt; accessed 4 July 2020.

[11] Frederick A Acomb and Nicholas J Jones, ‘Double-Hatting in International Arbitration’ (2017) 43 Litig 15.

[12] Ibid, at 16.

[13] Telekom Malaysia Berhad v Ghana (UNCITRAL Arbitration at the PCA, The Hague).

[14] In Telekom Malaysia Berhad v Ghana (UNCITRAL Arbitration at the PCA, The Hague), Ghana challenged the presence of the arbitrator nominated by the Claimants, Prof. Emmanuel Galliard, on the ground that he was acting as counsel for Morocco in the annulment proceedings of the award rendered in RFCC v Morocco (ICSID Case No. ARB/00/6), where he was challenging an argument that was being relied on by Ghana in the present case. The matter went up before the District Court in the Hague, which held that the dual roles would certainly hint at an appearance of being influenced by his role as counsel on his position on the tribunal. Subsequent to this decision, Prof. Galliard resigned from his role as the counsel of Morocco in the annulment proceedings and continued to serve as an arbitrator on the tribunal

[15] Netherlands Model Bilateral Investment Treaty, 2018.

[16] ‘The new draft Dutch BIT: what does it mean for investor mailbox companies?’ (HSF Notes, 30 May 2018) < https://hsfnotes.com/arbitration/2018/05/30/the-new-draft-dutch-bit-what-does-it-mean-for-investor-mailbox-companies/&gt; accessed 4 July 2020.

[17] UNCITRAL Working Group III: Investor-State Dispute Settlement Reform 2020.

[18] Fernando Dias Simoes, ‘UNCITRAL Working Group III: Would an Investment Court De-politicize ISDS’ (Kluwer Arbitration Blog, 25 March 2020) < http://arbitrationblog.kluwerarbitration.com/2020/03/25/uncitral-working-group-iii-would-an-investment-court-de-politicize-isds/?doing_wp_cron=1598784017.8404219150543212890625&gt; accessed 4 July 2020.

[19] Ibid.

[20] UNCITRAL and ICSID, Draft Code of Conduct for Adjudicators in Investor-State Dispute Settlement, Article 6 – “Adjudicators shall [refrain from acting]/[disclose that they act] as counsel, expert witness, judge, agent or in any other relevant role at the same time as they are [within X years of] acting on matters that involve the same parties, [the same facts] [and/ or] [the same treaty]”.

Iran’s Accession to ICSID: What to Expect?

by Shiva Ghahremani (Konrad & Partners), Amirhossein Tanhaei (CMS)

The signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015 and subsequently the lifting of the sanctions imposed on Iran, reintroduced the Iranian economy to the international trade and investment, leading Iran to return to the commercial mainstream. Just a few days ago, Tehran signed a $16.6 billion deal for 80 Boeing passenger jets and according to Iranian media, agreements have been concluded for the purchase of dozens more Airbus planes, forming the biggest package of commercial contracts with western companies since Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979. The lifting of the banking sanctions also means that Iran – despite technical difficulties – is reconnected to the world financial network.

With a population of almost 80 million, most of whom are young and highly educated people, Iran is an attractive hub for investors. Iran has the 26th largest economy in the world with a GDP of $ 425, 3 billion in 2016, and is amongst the largest economies in the Middle East and North Africa region. Besides, Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas reserves and fourth in proven crude oil reserves.  The Iranian sixth ‘Five-Year Development Plan’ for the 2016-2021 period comprises of development plans to envisage an annual economic growth rate of 8%.

In such circumstances, direct foreign investments make essential accompaniments to Iran’s economic development efforts, by contributing toward Iran’s economic growth and development over the long term. Foreign investments can potentially create jobs, build up competitiveness and productivity and transfer knowledge and technology. However, a key issue is to build necessary conditions to facilitate the investment flows. In October 2014, Iran ranked 130th out of 189 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, which further illustrates that Iran should make efforts to achieve a more transparent, secure and foreseeable investment environment to attract more foreign direct investments. This will be feasible by, amongst other things, offering a reliable, efficient and internationally accepted investment dispute settlement mechanism.

In this respect, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) provides a platform outside the domestic legal systems, which offers the foreign investors the guarantee that they can take the disputes to a facility which is not part of the legal system of the country in which they are suing. Commentators and investment scholars cite many benefits for the accession of states to the ICSID Convention, including that ICSID provides ‘additional protection’ to the investors abroad by allowing them to provide for recourse to arbitration using ICSID arbitral rules in their contracts with foreign states. Further, ICSID membership would contribute to reinforcing countries’ images as being investment friendly. According to the report published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the majority of international investment disputes between UNCTAD members are settled through ICSID. In this regard, as an UNCTAD member, Iran can provide Iranian investors with the opportunity of settling their disputes with foreign governments without the need of direct involvement of the Iranian government by accession to the ICSID.

Iran has developed its domestic laws during the recent years to pave the way for the facilitation of foreign investments. For instance, the enactment of the Law Concerning International Commercial Arbitration was one of the important initiations taken by Iran as a step towards making it a more arbitration-friendly country. In addition, Iran sought to take a noticeable step towards joining the international investment world by enacting Iran’s Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA) in 2002. This Act introduces an alternative method for dispute settlement for the Parties other than the exclusive referral to domestic courts, if provided by the Bilateral Investment Agreement. The establishment of the Tehran Regional Arbitration Centre, as well as the Iranian accession to the New York Convention, further highlight Iran’s readiness to adopt international developments in alternative dispute resolution methods. Iran has also frequently had recourse to arbitration over the past decades. For instance, the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal which was established in 1981 to resolve certain claims has finalized over 3,900 cases to date.

However, Iran is not a member state to the ICSID Convention. Despite the long standing discussions in respect to Iran’s becoming an ICSID member, one should bear in mind that in practice there are features in Iran’s jurisdiction which put limitations on Iran from being subject to ICSID arbitrations. Iran’s Constitution places a strict condition on foreign investments in Iran. In particular, Article 81 of the Constitutional Law of the Islamic Republic of Iran states that it is “absolutely forbidden” to give foreigners the right to establish companies in commercial, industrial, and other fields and in the service sector.

However, having passed the Law of Permitting Registration of Branches and Representatives Offices of Foreign Companies in 1997, Iran sought to facilitate the flow of foreign investments and business activities, by recognizing that foreign companies may – under certain circumstances – set up branches and representative offices in Iran to carry out the businesses authorized by the government of Islamic Republic of Iran in due compliance with the Laws of Iran. In addition, Article 139 of said Constitutional Law has conditioned the subjective arbitrability of public and State properties to the approval of the Council of Ministers, and a two-leveled approval system “in cases where the party to the dispute is a foreigner and in important internal cases, it must also be approved by the Assembly”. Therefore, the Iranian accession to the ICSID will have technical complications from the perspective of its Constitution, as it limits the State power to access the ICSID’s arbitration process.

Joining the ICSID will enhance international perceptions of Iran as a welcoming country to invest. Iranian companies and individuals, on the other hand, will also enjoy the protection of their investments abroad, if Iran joins the Convention. Iran has entered into almost 70 BITs with other countries, many of which contain clauses to submit the disputes to the ICSID, ‘if or as soon as both contracting parties have acceded to it’. The inclusion of such clauses in the BITs entered into by Iran demonstrates that the possibility of the Iranian accession to ICSID Convention in the future has been considered by the Iranian government.