Repeat appointments of an arbitrator by the same counsel or party are not uncommon in arbitration, with some even claiming that an ‘inner mafia’ decide the majority of cases. Whether this poses a problem for arbitrator independence or impartiality has been described as ‘highly controversial’. The 2014 IBA Guidelines on Conflicts of Interest expressly identifies repeat appointments as an Orange List circumstance providing possible grounds for challenge, but this has been described by commentators such as Gary Born as ‘poorly-considered’ and ‘relatively extreme’.
This article suggests that reports of systemic favouritism have been exaggerated and numerical limits on repeat appointments should be rejected. I begin by outlining in section 2 the two contrasting approaches that authorities faced with such challenges have adopted: a quantitative approach and a qualitative approach. Section 3 examines the legal standards that parties typically subscribe to and argues that they cannot and should not be interpreted to favour the quantitative approach. Section 4 scrutinizes the main reasoning processes that allegedly link repeat appointments to an appearance of bias and suggests that they rely on untenable generalizations. Finally, section 5 assesses the quantitative approach from its impact on party autonomy. I suggest that respecting party autonomy means that the quantitative approach must not be adopted except where parties have explicitly agreed so.Journal of International Arbitration