Fifty years ago, Frédéric Eisemann coined the expression ‘pathological clause’ to refer to arbitration clauses that substantially deviate from the essential requirements of a model clause.
However, arbitration practitioners have not yet learned their lesson; the matter of pathology is far from being outdated.
Arbitration clauses may be pathological if they do not provide for mandatory referrals to arbitration proceedings, or do not meet certain other requirements to provide for a workable arbitration procedure, or contain a reference to non-existing arbitral institutions and/or arbitral rules, or provide for a proceeding administered by an arbitral institution pursuant to different institutional rules.
In most instances, the competent supervisory court (or the arbitral tribunal or institution dealing with a defective clause) seeks to cure these pathologies. Arbitral tribunals and national courts generally try to ascertain whether the parties’ real intention is to arbitrate, and, if that to arbitrate is apparent, to give effect to and enforce an otherwise invalid arbitration clause.
In any case, parties should not blindly rely on tribunals’ and courts’ tendency to uphold such clauses; the only safe approach is to avoid pathology.Journal of International Arbitration