Less than 10 percent Indian arbitrators on international panels are women: CJI

Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud has lamented that less than 10 per cent of all Indian arbitrators on various international panels are women, terming the situation as a “diversity paradox”.

The CJI was speaking at the inaugural session of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) South Asia Conference, 2023 on Thursday.

Justice Chandrachud hailed the fact that now various international arbitral institutions have “curated regionally diverse panels of arbitrators”.

“However, the gendered compositions of these panels are hard to miss. We face what is called a diversity paradox i.e. a mismatch between our stated objectives and actual appointments. Less than 10 per cent of all Indian arbitrators on various international institutional panels are women,” he said.

He referred to a report on Gender Diversity and said it identified unconscious bias’ was contributing to this gender mismatch.

“It suggests using gender-neutral pronouns in our legislation and rules. It is heartening to see that some arbitration rules have taken the cue in employing gender-neutral pronouns in their texts. However, the overwhelming majority of empanelled arbitrators are men. Women, as persons of all genders, also belong in all institutions of dispute resolution,” he said.

The CJI said countries must learn from others and the successes and difficulties that they faced with its people, businesses, and legal systems.

“This is all the more possible in this conference because South Asian countries have much and more in common the many similarities in our cultural and social set up undoubtedly seep into our business practices and legal systems. Our economies are also inter-connected, especially in the digital age….” he said.

Our legal frameworks must evolve in tandem with the expansion of the digital economy, he said and referred to the MoU signed between India and Singapore last week on advancing cooperation in judicial education and research.

“Sunshine, as they say, is the best disinfectant. Fortunately, UNCITRAL assisted countries in the simplification and uniformisation of their laws and rules, which in turn has made the justice delivery system more accessible,” he said.

Legislative efforts in India in ensuring clarity, as well as judicial thrust on party autonomy significantly reduced the sense of unease amongst contracting parties, he said, highlighting the importance of alternative dispute redressal (ADR) mechanism.

“With its eye on best practices, India has steadily charted a course where arbitrations are the preferred mode of dispute resolution,” he said, adding, “Indian courts have encouraged the use of ADR mechanisms over the years. In enforcing arbitration agreements, they have remained watchful of attempts to undercut party autonomy by artfully drafted contracts.”

Besides the CJI, Attorney General for India R Venkataramani and senior advocate Fali Nariman attended the function.

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