Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution where a neutral third party, known as an arbitrator, resolves disputes between parties outside of court. This method is favoured for its confidentiality, speed, and efficiency compared to traditional litigation. Public policy, however, refers to the established principles and standards a community or State deemed critical, often reflecting broader societal values or the common good.

Arbitration and public policy intersect when arbitral decisions touch on matters of significant public concern. For instance, an arbitral award that goes against the country’s fundamental principles could be challenged on the grounds of public policy. Consequently, each State has developed its own interpretation of public policy, reflected in legislation and judicial decisions. It is evident that the unique economic, religious, social, and political factors in each State profoundly shape its legal system and define its concept of public policy.

This piece, another instalment in our Understanding Arbitration: A Guide for Businesses series, explores the delicate balance between private dispute resolution and public interest, explaining how arbitration can be conducted harmoniously with societal values. It will provide practical insights on bridging arbitration and public policy, aiding legal practitioners, arbitrators, and parties in dispute to understand the implications better and operate effectively within this sphere. Through this discussion, readers will learn the core considerations at this intersection, making them better equipped to engage in arbitration while upholding the principles of public policy.

Historical Context

Arbitration has a long-standing history, dating to ancient times when communities relied on neutral third parties to resolve disputes. The modern form of arbitration has evolved significantly, especially in the past century, becoming a structured and formalised process with established rules and procedures.

On the other hand, public policy has always played a significant role in shaping the practice of arbitration. Over time, as societies became more complex and the scope of arbitrable matters expanded, the influence of public policy on arbitration grew. The relationship between arbitration and public policy became more pronounced with the recognition of specific standards, such as upholding contractual obligations and ensuring fair play.

Public policy considerations started reflecting more prominently in arbitration laws and rules, guiding the arbitrator’s discretion and the enforceability of arbitral awards. For example, many jurisdictions adopted provisions that enable courts to set aside or refuse the enforcement of arbitral awards that violate public policy. Moreover, numerous national arbitration laws include specific conditions about public policy, detailing scenarios where an arbitral award may face rejection or annulment. These laws often reflect international norms but are customised to align with each jurisdiction’s unique legal and cultural fabric.

Historically, the influence of public policy has helped arbitration stay aligned with societal values, ensuring that while it provides a forum for private dispute resolution, it does not operate in a vacuum devoid of broader societal considerations. This historical perspective sets the stage for a deeper examination of how arbitration and public policy interact in the contemporary setting. This discussion will unfold in the subsequent sections of this blog post. This narrative will also offer practical insights for professionals in the arbitration field, ensuring they grasp the critical public policy considerations relevant to their practice.

Arbitration Agreements and Public Policy

1. Drafting Arbitration Agreements:

When drafting arbitration agreements, it is vital to know the public policy concerns of the jurisdictions where enforcement might be sought. These concerns can significantly influence the terms and enforceability of the agreement. Attention to public policy can also foster a more fair and just arbitration process, aligning private dispute resolution mechanisms with societal values.

2. Public Policy Factors to Consider:

a. Access to Justice: Arbitration agreements should not restrict parties’ access to justice. For example, an arbitration clause that places an undue financial burden on one of the parties or sets a practically inaccessible venue could be viewed as limiting access to justice.

b. Non-Discrimination: Arbitration agreements should be drafted neutrally to ensure that they do not discriminate against any party, whether an individual or a business, based on unjustifiable criteria. For example, a clause specifying an arbitral institution from a country with discriminatory laws or practices could potentially be challenged on the grounds of non-discrimination. Similarly, an arbitration agreement that unfairly disadvantages a small business or a foreign entity could also be viewed as discriminatory and potentially unenforceable.

c. Compliance with Local Laws: Arbitration agreements must comply with the laws of the jurisdictions in which they are to be enforced. This includes adherence to statutes relating to arbitration and other relevant legal provisions. For instance, if a jurisdiction requires arbitration agreements in writing, failing to adhere to this requirement could render the agreement unenforceable.

d. Contractual Capacity: The parties involved must have the legal capacity to enter an arbitration agreement. This generally means that individuals must be of a certain age and sound mind. For companies, it entails that the entity is properly formed and registered under the laws of its jurisdiction.

Enforcing Arbitral Awards and Public Policy

1. Rules for Enforcement:

The enforcement of arbitral awards follows guidelines set by international treaties and the laws of specific countries. The New York Convention is a crucial international treaty that aids in the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards. Additionally, each country’s laws provide a framework for enforcing local and foreign awards. For smooth enforcement, the arbitration agreement and the resulting award must adhere to these guidelines.

2. Public Policy Factors to Consider

Public policy concerns can pose challenges to the enforcement of arbitral awards. Both the New York Convention (Article V(2)) and the UNCITRAL Model Law (Article 34(1)(b)) highlight these concerns through a public policy exception to enforcement. According to the New York Convention, if an award goes against the public policy of the State where enforcement is sought or if the dispute’s subject matter isn’t suitable for arbitration under its laws, enforcement can be denied. In a similar vein, the Model Law allows for refusal of enforcement if the award clashes with the enforcing State’s public policy or if the subject matter isn’t fit for arbitration under its laws.

The public policy factors in enforcing arbitral awards relate to the broader societal interests and legal principles upheld by the jurisdiction where enforcement is sought. Some of the relevant public policy considerations include:

a. Legality: The subject matter of the arbitration and the award itself should comply with the laws of the enforcing State. For instance, an award promoting illegal activities would face enforcement issues.

b. Fairness and Equality: The arbitration process should uphold the principles of fairness and equality. Any evident bias or discrimination during arbitration could pose a problem during enforcement.

c. Public Health and Safety: Awards that could harm public health or safety may not be enforced. For example, an award ignoring established safety regulations might be challenged.

d. Good Morals: The enforcement of awards that go against the moral standards of a society could be refused. This includes issues related to decency and ethics.

e. Sovereignty and Security: Awards that threaten the sovereignty or security of a state may face enforcement hurdles.

f. Fraud or Corruption: If evidence emerges that the award was influenced by bribery, it could be challenged and potentially refused enforcement.

g. Consistency with International Norms: If an award violates international human rights standards, it could be challenged on public policy grounds.

3. Judicial Review Standards

Arbitrators and parties should understand the standards judges use to review arbitration awards in light of public policy. It is essential to balance respecting arbitration decisions with the possibility of judicial intervention in cases of significant public policy violations.

4. Global Enforcement Strategies

When enforcing arbitration awards across different jurisdictions, stakeholders must consider varying public policy standards. By leveraging treaties like the New York Convention, parties can more effectively enforce arbitration awards across different countries while carefully considering each jurisdiction’s unique public policy concerns.

5. Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms

Exploring other dispute resolution methods, such as mediation, can offer solutions that accommodate public policy considerations without solely relying on the enforceability of arbitration decisions.

Balancing Private and Public Interests

1. Upholding Public Policy in Arbitration:

Arbitration, while a private method of dispute resolution, operates within a broader societal and legal setting. The arbitration process and the ensuing awards must align with the public policy of the jurisdictions involved, ensuring they are both enforceable and accepted. This alignment facilitates a conducive environment for fair and just resolutions and ensures conformity with the societal values and legal norms upheld in the relevant jurisdictions.

2. Tips for Balancing Private and Public Interests:

Creating a balance between the private interests of the disputing parties and the public interests of the jurisdictions is imperative for a successful arbitration process. Here are some pragmatic tips:

a. Informed Selection of Law and Venue: Choose a governing law and venue with a clear understanding of their public policy implications, ensuring they support a fair arbitration process.

b. Appointing Neutral Arbitrators: Select neutral arbitrators who have a thorough understanding of the relevant public policy concerns. Their impartiality is essential for maintaining the integrity of the process.

c. Transparent Procedures: Set clear, transparent procedural rules that provide an equal footing for all parties involved while adhering to due process standards and clearly state what issues can be solved through arbitration, keeping in mind the rules set by public policy.

d. Public Policy Review: Undertake comprehensive reviews to ascertain that the arbitration agreement and the anticipated award align with the relevant jurisdictions’ public policy.

e. Open Communication: Encourage open communication among parties, arbitrators, and legal counsel to address public policy concerns at an early stage, ensuring a mutually acceptable arbitration process.

What Lies Ahead

1. Future Public Policies Impacting Arbitration:

The rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in legal processes is poised to impact arbitration. AI can automate routine tasks, analyse large datasets to predict legal outcomes and improve the efficiency of arbitration proceedings. However, its adoption brings forth public policy concerns. The transparency, fairness, and potential bias in AI systems could face scrutiny. Moreover, determining accountability for decisions made with AI assistance in arbitration may also raise public policy issues. Staying updated on legal and technological developments and engaging in discussions on the ethical use of AI in arbitration will be crucial for arbitration stakeholders.

2. Adaptation Tips:

Adapting to the changing policy landscape requires a proactive approach. Here are some practical steps:

a. Continuous Learning: Stay updated on legal and policy developments in relevant jurisdictions. Engage in constant learning and training to understand the implications of these changes on arbitration practices.

b. Review and Update Arbitration Agreements: Periodically review and revise arbitration agreements to align them with the current law and public policy. This step can reduce risks tied to enforcement.

c. Stakeholder Engagement: Foster open communication with all stakeholders, including legal counsel, arbitrators, and disputing parties. Sharing knowledge can cultivate a collaborative approach to adapting to policy shifts.

d. Seek Expert Advice: Consult with legal experts and arbitration institutions to learn best practices for adjusting to new public policy settings. Their guidance can be instrumental in navigating the shifting arbitration scene.


The interaction between arbitration and public policy demands thorough understanding and attention from professionals and stakeholders. This piece has demonstrated how public policy considerations impact the drafting of arbitration agreements and the enforcement of arbitral awards. Adhering to public policy smooths enforcement and aligns private dispute resolution mechanisms with broader societal values.

Looking ahead and paying attention to public policy changes is crucial. With factors like the integration of Artificial Intelligence in legal processes, public policy is set to become more complex. Adapting to these changes requires promoting fairness, transparency, and justice in arbitration processes.


The insights presented in this blog post aim to furnish readers with a broad understanding of arbitration within the context of global business. This material does not purport to provide legal advice, but rather serves as an informative resource. Specific decisions concerning arbitration and its relevance should always be made in consultation with qualified legal experts. Given the intricate variations and legal implications of arbitration across different jurisdictions, it is paramount to collaborate with legal professionals well-acquainted with the precise legal framework pertinent to your circumstances.

If you find this content valuable and have further questions, or if you require guidance on the detailed aspects of arbitration, please feel free to reach out to our dedicated team at We stand ready to guide you through these processes and address any areas of concern.

Isaiah Bozimo

Isaiah Bozimo


Folashade Dosunmu

Folashade Dosunmu


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