Some disputes demand immediate attention and resolution in the fast-paced business world. Emergency arbitration stands out as a practical tool designed to offer parties prompt interim relief, often before the constitution of the main arbitral tribunal. This streamlined method of addressing pressing issues ensures businesses avoid undue harm and can continue operations with minimal disruption. With the surge in international commerce and cross-border agreements, the need for swift dispute resolution mechanisms has become more pronounced. Leading arbitral institutions across the globe have recognised this pressing demand, integrating emergency arbitration provisions into their rules.

In this piece, the 13th entry in our “Understanding Arbitration: A Guide for Businessesseries, we will discuss the critical components of emergency arbitration, its procedures, advantages, and key considerations businesses should be aware of.

Understanding Emergency Arbitration

Emergency arbitration offers a tailored solution for disputes demanding immediate resolution. Unlike conventional arbitration, which follows a more extensive and drawn-out process, emergency arbitration delivers quicker decisions, often within days. It is pertinent to differentiate between emergency arbitration and regular interim measures, as discussed in our last post. While both seek to provide temporary relief, emergency arbitration occurs before the constitution of the main arbitral tribunal, addressing immediate threats or harm.

The situations that typically demand emergency arbitration are diverse but carry a common thread: the necessity for prompt action. Examples include significant financial risks, immediate threats to a party’s reputation, or circumstances where delays could negate the benefits of subsequent arbitral relief. For instance, a company facing sudden asset dissipation or an unexpected breach of confidentiality might turn to emergency arbitration. The need might also arise when potential irreversible damages loom in business partnerships or joint ventures.

Understanding the essence and appropriate application of emergency arbitration ensures businesses can respond effectively and efficiently to unexpected challenges, maintaining operational continuity and upholding their interests.

Step-by-Step Procedure of Emergency Arbitration

1. Initiation

An emergency arbitration begins with submitting a precise application with the concerned arbitral institution or other authority. This document should capture the urgency’s essence by:

a. Identifying all involved parties.

b. Summarising the core dispute.

c. Detailing the specific immediate relief requested.

d. Stressing the potential repercussions of inaction.

Moreover, parties should ensure they’ve settled any required fees set out by the arbitral institution or authority.

2. Appointment

The selection of an emergency arbitrator is critical and is often swift, typically within a day or two of receiving the application. Arbitral institutions maintain a list of arbitrators adept at managing urgent situations. Selection is a careful balance between the dispute’s nature, the necessary expertise, and avoiding conflicts of interest. Knowing an institution’s selection criteria can offer parties insight into the arbitrator’s potential profile.

3. Proceedings

Swift and effective action defines emergency arbitration. Once appointed, the arbitrator drafts a procedural timetable, always mindful of the urgency. While most hearings rely on document submissions, essential oral representations remain concise. Both parties receive a fair chance to state their cases, even if in a condensed manner. Teleconferencing or video conferencing technologies are often employed to avoid delays associated with in-person meetings.

4. Decision-Making

Once proceedings conclude, the arbitrator promptly reaches a decision. Depending on jurisdictional and institutional rules, this takes the form of either an order or an award. This decision offers a temporary binding resolution until a main arbitral tribunal steps in. It’s worth noting that the main tribunal can later modify or even overturn this initial decision. Parties should remain aware of such eventualities and strategise accordingly.

Key Advantages of Emergency Arbitration

1. Rapid Resolution: Time is often of the essence in business disputes, especially when the stakes are high. Emergency arbitration provides a time-efficient solution by quickly addressing pressing issues, ensuring they don’t escalate or cause irreparable harm. This doesn’t mean the end of the arbitration. The decision reached in emergency arbitration is provisional. While it addresses immediate concerns, it is a precursor to a more comprehensive evaluation by the main arbitral tribunal. However, this quick, interim solution allows parties to maintain operational stability without waiting for the entire arbitration process to conclude.

2. Preventing Further Damage: When disputes arise, especially in sectors like intellectual property, the clock can be a silent adversary. Each passing day might represent mounting financial losses and escalating infringement of rights. Emergency arbitration steps in to arrest these damages.

3. Specialised Expertise: Selecting the right arbitrator can make a significant difference. Arbitral institutions prioritise arbitrators with specific sectoral knowledge tailored to the nature of urgent disputes. This specialisation ensures a deep understanding of the issue, facilitating well-informed decisions that resonate with industry standards.

4. Adaptive Procedures: While flexibility is a hallmark of arbitration generally, emergency arbitration takes adaptability to a heightened level. Given the pressing timelines, there’s an imperative to tailor procedures rapidly to the dispute’s specifics. This could involve shortening the usual submission periods or resorting to immediate hearings through advanced telecommunication. Such procedural adaptability ensures that urgent matters receive the immediate attention they warrant without compromising fairness.

5. Confidentiality: The principle of confidentiality is common to many arbitration proceedings. However, its significance is magnified in emergency arbitrations. Ensuring that sensitive information remains private is paramount in these cases, given the urgency and potential for immediate and far-reaching consequences. This helps protect business interests, trade secrets, or even strategic decisions that might be exposed in the heat of an urgent dispute. As always, parties should be aware of the specific confidentiality rules in their chosen jurisdiction and adjust their expectations accordingly.

6. Interim Nature as Strategic Tool: The temporary nature of decisions in emergency arbitration can give a strategic vantage point. As mentioned above, though these decisions offer immediate relief, they are not final and can be revisited by the main arbitral tribunal. However, this initial stage gives parties a preview of how their arguments might fare in a more extended proceeding. With this preliminary feedback, parties can refine their positions, allowing for a more tailored and strategic approach in the main arbitration.

Potential Pitfalls and Solutions in Emergency Arbitration

1. Enforceability Hurdles: The effectiveness of emergency arbitration can be diluted if the resulting awards face enforcement challenges. To sidestep this, parties should strategically select arbitral institutions and seats with reputations for facilitating enforceable awards. Familiarising oneself with the New York Convention, to which many countries are signatories, can also offer guidance as it sets out conditions for recognising and enforcing arbitral awards. Consulting local experts in the jurisdiction of intended enforcement is wise, offering a granular understanding of the terrain and the nuances of local enforcement practices.

2. Cost Considerations: The swift pace of emergency arbitration might sometimes inflate the financial outlay. To manage this, parties should clarify fee structures with their chosen arbitral institution upfront. Cost capping can be a valuable strategy: parties gain better predictability and control over the financial aspect of the process by setting a maximum limit on the allowable expenses for the arbitration. Setting a defined budget for the emergency arbitration process can also be beneficial, ensuring sensible expenditure. Additionally, considering alternative fee arrangements with legal representatives, such as fixed fees for specific tasks, can offer predictability. It is paramount for parties to juxtapose these expenses against the risks of inaction. In many scenarios, the urgency of the situation justifies the expenditure.

3. Temporary Nature of Decisions: As stated above, emergency arbitration decisions offer provisional relief. The decisions rendered serve as immediate measures, not the final word. With this in mind, parties should concurrently strategise for the main arbitration process, ensuring continuity and capitalising on the preliminary insights of the emergency arbitrator. Designing a strategy that spans both the emergency and main arbitration ensures alignment in representations and optimises the chances for a successful outcome.

4. Potential for Prejudice: While beneficial in many respects, the expedited nature of emergency arbitration can inadvertently favour a better-poised party to present its case swiftly. This advantage might arise due to superior preparation, better resources, or a more efficient legal team. Such imbalances might result in a perception (or reality) of bias, with one party feeling disadvantaged by the rapid proceedings. To counteract this, it’s vital to ensure that both parties receive adequate notice and have a full opportunity to present their arguments, even within the limited timeframe. Moreover, arbitral institutions and arbitrators must remain vigilant to ensure a level playing field for all parties involved.

Tips for a Successful Emergency Arbitration

1. Informed Forum Selection: A successful emergency arbitration often starts with the right choice of an arbitral institution. Renowned institutions offer established protocols and a degree of credibility that can enhance the effectiveness and acceptance of the arbitration process. Researching the history, reputation, and specific provisions for emergency proceedings of an institution can give parties an advantage, ensuring they align with a forum that offers both reliability and expertise.

2. Fast yet Thorough Preparation: Time constraints in emergency arbitration can challenge even the most seasoned professionals. Effective preparation in such tight timeframes demands a clear strategy. Parties should prioritise gathering essential documents, setting clear objectives for the outcome, and preparing concise yet comprehensive submissions. Streamlined communication channels, both internally and with external advisors, can aid in achieving this balance of speed and substance.

3. Legal Expertise: Having the right legal counsel by your side is indispensable. Not all lawyers have experience or familiarity with the nuances of emergency arbitration. Seek out attorneys who understand the urgency, can swiftly mobilise resources, and are well-acquainted with your chosen institution’s specific procedures. Their expertise can guide you through the rapid-paced proceedings, ensuring that your case is presented effectively and that you harness the benefits of the process without falling into potential pitfalls.

Recent Developments and Trends in Emergency Arbitration

Across the globe, emergency arbitration is gaining traction, with more jurisdictions acknowledging its potential. Leading this transformative shift is Nigeria, with its recent adoption of specific provisions within its Arbitration and Mediation Act. Sections 16(1) to 16(11) lay the roadmap for appointing an emergency arbitrator and clarify the interim measures available before constituting the main tribunal. This legislative addition accentuates the growing emphasis on prompt interim solutions for pressing disputes.

Nigeria’s forward-thinking approach offers a detailed procedure for the process. Parties seeking emergency arbitration must submit a comprehensive application, shedding light on the nature of the emergency and justifying the urgency of the relief sought (as stipulated in Section 16(3)). Recognising the need for speed, the Act mandates a swift process, directing the appointment of an emergency arbitrator within two business days of an application’s acceptance (Section 16(5)). “Emergency Decisions” must follow within 14 days (Article 27 of the Arbitration Rules in the First Schedule to the Act). The main arbitral tribunal, once constituted, retains the authority to modify or annul these decisions, ensuring a balance of powers.

Conclusion and Looking Ahead

The significance of emergency arbitration in today’s business world is undeniable. This mechanism, designed for swift intervention, enables businesses to safeguard their interests before they constitute a formal arbitral tribunal. As the pace of global business accelerates, the requirement for such timely interventions becomes even more pronounced. Emergency arbitration is well-positioned to answer these calls with the drive towards more streamlined and rapid solutions in the face of disputes.

Looking ahead, the dispute resolution landscape is set for further transformation. Nations like Nigeria have already shown the way with their progressive legislation. With an increasing number of businesses leaning towards the immediacy and efficiency that emergency arbitration offers, it’s evident that emergency arbitration will play an integral role in shaping the future of global dispute resolution.


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


Qawiyyat Ibrahim

Qawiyyat Ibrahim

NYSC Associate

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