He was defending the attractions of London as a centre of international dispute resolution in face of criticisms levelled by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, who argued in his Bailii Lecture in 2016 that development of the common law was being impeded by the growth in arbitration.

According to Rowley: ‘The International Dispute Resolution Centre (IDRC) in Fleet Street is undoubtedly the largest and most-used arbitral hearing centre in the world. Singapore has been given kudos for its up-to-date and comfortable hearing rooms at Maxwell Chambers and the new ICC and HKIAC hearing facilities in Paris and Hong Kong are also first class, but the IDRC has a much greater capacity and a markedly greater throughput than Hong Kong, Singapore and Paris combined. It also has more extensive facilities and operates more efficiently than any other centre.’

Indeed, in the International Arbitration Survey: Improvements and Innovations in International Arbitration (Queen Mary/White & Case, 2015), factors such as the location and quality of hearing facilities and high level of administration were found to increase the attractiveness of a seat.

Managing expectations

The IDRC was set up in 2000. Alongside other London-based dispute resolution bodies, such as the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA), it has experienced a huge increase in volume of business and size of hearings over the last decade. An average hearing 10 years ago would have brought around 20 attendees, with larger hearings hosting up to 40 people. One retiring room per party would be expected, which would seat around 10 people. Now an average case brings 30-35 people, with 60-80 people attending the larger cases. Multiple large rooms are expected for each party, ideally on the same floor. With all this comes an increase in technological requirements, and the IDRC has had to evolve its services continuously to meet these needs. For example, introducing a ‘premier suite’ which offers IDR-desks, a built-in PA system and translation booth, live audio-visual feeds, document evidence display and HD video conferencing facilities.

The centre is opening more regularly at weekends and evenings for set-up. In an average case, clients will require, at the very least, document/evidence presentation, transcription services/audio recording and a PA system. Most of the larger cases now also require HD video conferencing facilities and translation booths, all adding to the need for more space. More exacting requirements can include requests for a private client network (WIFI) and multiple printers/copiers in the retiring rooms.

In the past, the IDRC has received requests for 24-hour security guards, metal detectors in the reception area, ‘debugging’ of rooms and an individual bathroom to which only a single judge has access. Some cases are also of huge public interest, which brings its own challenges. Clients can require secure back door access, when coping with press intrusion. Most of the key challenges relate to last-minute requests – for example, if a client can’t get a visa in time or has transport issues, a video conference or skype call may need to be set up in minutes. It is surprising how often clients attend the IDRC having not organised transcription services. Fortunately we have an extremely good working relationship with some of the best companies in London, so this can be organised at short notice.

Staying competitive

Cost was identified as arbitration’s worst feature in the survey cited above, and the IDRC strives to ensure it remains good value for money within the market. The challenge is ensuring client awareness of this. In fact, with a steady increase in the number of arbitrations, mediations and disciplinary hearings and the increase in larger hearings, the board of directors of the IDRC is currently considering a move to larger premises. Fortunately, due to its privately funded nature, it is able to react and evolve to the ever-changing needs of international dispute resolution; competition may come from other capital cities opening similar centres around the world.

The IDRC – a quick history

A private company with shareholders ranging from the City of London to major London and international law firms, members of the Bar and individual arbitrators, the IDRC was set up in 2000 by founder and CEO Damian Hickman. The first chairman was Lord Alexander of Weedon; followed by Bob Ayling (ex-CEO of British Airways); and the current chairman is Michael Payton (QC) Hon, chairman of Clyde & Co.

The original centre was located at Breams Buildings and consisted of six suites over 11,000ft2. It moved to 70 Fleet Street in 2004 with 11 suites over 25,000ft2. In 2011, the IDRC expanded into the building next door, creating a further three suites and is now using over 35,000ft2. The IDRC currently hosts up to 400 arbitrations and 400 mediations each year (as well as providing space for training courses, conferences, seminars, evening events and so on), with its largest available room capable of seating up to 100 people.

The centre enjoys the support of some of the major bodies in London concerned with dispute resolution, some of whom have offices at the IDRC (LCIA, Cedr, Jams International, Concordis International and ResoLex). Collaborators rather than competitors, the majority of their hearings are held at the IDRC.

Contributor Damian Hickman is Chief Executive Officer of the International Dispute Resolution Centre