A key stage in an ICSID case is the organization of a hearing. It is also one the most logistically demanding for everyone involved. At the ICSID Secretariat, Lamiss Al-Tashi, ICSID’s hearing organizer, plays an important part in the success of hearings—albeit much of it behind the scenes. We sat down with Lamiss to discuss the hearing-related services provided by ICSID, how these have evolved, and her most challenging assignments.
ICSID has seen an increase in its caseload over the years. How is this reflected in the number of hearings managed by ICSID?
Lamiss: We have seen tremendous growth. Ten years ago, we held 80 hearings and sessions. Last year, we held 183.
There has also been an increase in different locations for hearings. And, more generally, hearings have become more complex in terms of their requirements.
As such, our services have evolved to handle multiple complex hearings simultaneously. It is not uncommon for ICSID to manage three or four large hearings in a single week—in different cities around the world.
Last year ICSID opened up a new hearing centre in Washington, D.C. In designing that facility, you must have had a long ‘wish list.’ What was on top of that list?
Lamiss: First of all—windows! This may not sound like a big requirement, but natural light makes a huge impact on peoples’ disposition.
Proximity amongst the hearing rooms, break-out and deliberation rooms is also important. These are all on the same floor at ICSID’s hearing centre.
We also paid a lot of attention to technology, including rooms that are fully equipped with state-of-the-art audio and video technology. Often one goes to a new centre that looks amazing but lacks basic infrastructure. They have to hire external vendors for interpretation booths or video recording, for example. We knew we wanted everything in house.
And, finally, we strive to be highly service oriented. At the end of the day, our approach to customer services is the most important feature of our hearing center.
I think we’ve been successful in our overall approach. Our facilities are not only highly rated in ICSID cases, but are increasingly requested for hearings in investment arbitrations under UNCITRAL and other non-ICSID rules.
ICSID is one of the five organizations of the World Bank Group. What are the benefits of this affiliation—particularly with respect to the services ICSID provides for hearings?
Lamiss: A big one is access to a huge network of country offices—over a 130 in total. Access to these offices—together with the over 20 cooperation agreements that ICSID has with other leading arbitration centres—means that there are very few places in the world where ICSID cannot provide secure and technologically-advanced facilities for hearings.
Another benefit is that we share a vast pool of experienced vendors, such as court reporters, interpreters, and technicians. This ensures not only a breadth of services—for example, interpretation in virtually any language—but also assurances of world-class quality.
And, lastly, is the fact that ICSID operates within an incredibly diverse and talented group of institutions. We benefit immensely from the exchange of knowledge with colleagues from across the World Bank Group on everything from how to manage resources efficiently to how to leverage the best of new technologies.
We have seen an increase in transparency in ICSID cases, including hearings that are open to the public. What has ICSID done to accommodate this trend?
When I first started 10 years ago, we had just started public hearings. At that time, we had only a few rooms that could accommodate open hearings and the technology was much more limited.
We have come a long way since then. Today, we can easily address all levels of transparency. The technology has improved tremendously, allowing for open hearings in multiple languages and with advanced sensory cameras that track speakers. And having invested in the technology and know-how, we can provide these services at very little extra cost to the parties.
ICSID is a pioneer in this area. Other dispute-resolution institutes come to our facilities to use our technology for open hearings.
Tell me about your most complex hearing….
I have come to realize that every hearing is complex in its own way. But what I call the “three-in-one combo hearing” was one of the most logistically challenging. This was a hearing that moved between three international locations in the span of two days. The hearing involved the examination of two experts who could not testify in-person or even be in the same physical location as the hearing. As such, arrangements were made in two different cities for them to join via videoconference. However, due to procedural constraints of this particular case, the Tribunal later decided to hold a separate hearing for their examination in a third country. To ensure discretion, arrangements were made simultaneously in three alternative venues in this country. Depending on the Tribunal’s decision at the beginning of the hearing, the entire hearing would be moved from one venue to another. This was going to happen quickly, and we needed to be on standby. Ultimately, the hearing went smoothly—but I didn’t sleep much for a few days.
Also competing in the ‘most complex’ category was a site visit that we organized in the Amazon jungle. It resembled an actual hearing with video recording, interpreters and court reporter who had to follow the group from one site to another. We had to deal with heat, humidity, rough terrain and wildlife. We also had to ensure that everyone had their vaccinations, proper clothing and gear to deal with extreme climates. It was difficult and physically challenging for everyone, as you can imagine.
Thank you, Lamiss. Where can people learn more?
Lamiss: Those interested in ICSID’s hearing related services, including their availability in non-ICSID cases, can contact my team directly at [email protected]
ICSID’s Washington, D.C. Hearing Facilities—and Overview
• Three large hearing rooms—with capacity for over 50 individuals each—and eight break-out rooms for parties and tribunals.
• State-of-the-art video-conferencing, projection, interpretation, recording, sound, and webcasting equipment
• Large plasma-screen monitors and individual monitors for arbitrators
• Multi-language Live Stream for public hearings, as needed
• Dedicated professionals to manage all technical aspects of each hearing
• Sound-proof interpretation booths with multi-language capacity (up to 7 languages at a time)
• Photocopying, fax, and Wifi services
• On-site catering
• Security for all premises, including guard patrol