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France has always been a popular venue for international arbitration. ICC statistics—generally thought to be representative of international arbitration as a whole—show that France as a place for international arbitration has lost none of its appeal. Over the past five years (1996-2000), out of a total of 2421 new arbitrations filed with the ICC, France was by far the most popular seat with 492 arbitrations, compared to 378 in Switzerland, 222 in the United Kingdom and 178 in the United States.

With such a large share of international arbitrations being conducted in France, it is not surprising that arbitration in France has taken on a very international flavor. Indeed, many of the arbitrations held in France are conducted by lawyers of various nationalities, based in Paris or elsewhere, before arbitrators of still different nationalities and places of residence, and in languages other than French—mostly but not exclusively English. Typically, some discovery is allowed—although depositions are rare—and witnesses are examined as they would be in common law proceedings. The fact that these techniques are not generally available before French courts does not deter arbitrators, irrespective of their own legal backgrounds, from routinely using such means of gathering evidence.

The transnational character of international arbitration in France results from the convergence of several important factors. The foremost of these is the strong pro-arbitration bias of French law on arbitration. France’s 1981 Decree on international arbitration was one of the first modern arbitration laws, and even today remains more progressive than subsequent arbitration legislation in most other countries.

The French courts have also played an important role in encouraging international arbitration in France by establishing a solid tradition of judicial non-interference in the arbitral process. Provided there is a prima facie arbitration agreement, French courts will insist, if need be, in the establishment of the arbitral tribunal and leave it to the arbitrators to determine the existence and extent of their jurisdiction. No court interference whatsoever will occur during the course of the arbitral process. At the action to set aside or enforcement stage, the award will be scrutinized only by reference to five limited grounds, all of which are narrowly construed.

Lastly, the existence of a longstanding and very active international legal community, as well as the location of the ICC headquarters in Paris since 1923, significantly contributed to the development of a strong international arbitration practice in France.

Paris, January 1, 2002 


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