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Navigating Uncharted Territories: ICSID Tribunals’ Power to Remove Counsel

This article was originally published on the HNLU CCLS Blog on November 23, 2023 (find here).

Aarya Parihar*

The role of a lawyer is extremely crucial in an arbitration proceeding. The right to effective legal representation of one’s own choice is specifically recognized in various international instruments, like Article 14 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 6 European Convention on Human Rights. Such a right is equally important in investor-State arbitration proceedings, where it may form part of the due process expectations of the parties to the proceedings with serious transgressions from the principle even may potentially constituting a ground to challenge the award itself. The ICSID Convention, Rules, and Regulations do not expressly address the authority of ICSID Tribunals to permit the withdrawal of legal counsel or to compel their continued participation in the proceedings (against their wishes). This post discusses the authority of ICSID Tribunals to exclude or require the presence of particular counsel in a dispute. The post then discusses the existing arbitral decisions on this issue to examine the contours of ICSID Tribunals’ powers in relation to these matters.


Do ICSID Tribunals Have the Power to Remove/Exclude Counsel?

ICSID Tribunals are formed to resolve treaty disputes between contracting parties. Every dispute has its own separate Tribunal with separate procedural rules agreed by the disputing parties. Arbitration’s inherent nature of being party-centric, where the autonomy of parties is given primacy leads to divergent procedural practices. Additionally, the non-binding nature or lack of precedential character of ICSID awards over other ICSID Tribunals leads to differing awards. Thus, it is essential that before moving to ICSID Tribunals, assistance shall be taken from the federal courts of the United States who have often used their power to decide upon the issue of counsel resignation.

Generally, the US Courts look for a good cause, which depends upon the facts and circumstances of every case. Simply put, there is no straitjacket formula to when a counsel can legally stop their representation. It, hugely and majorly, depends upon the peculiar factual matrix of every case and the application of mind by the judge presiding over it.

In the realm of ICSID, only a few Tribunals were called upon to decide upon the issue of counsel resignation or removal of counsel. Five of the publicly available awards are from Hrvatska Tribunal, Rompetrol Tribunal, Edmond Khudyan Tribunal, Fraport Tribunal, and Theodore David Einarsson Tribunal. These five orders from five different Tribunals delve into the issue of removal of counsel. In all these five decisions, the Tribunal found its power to remove counsel under Article 44 of the ICSID Convention, which provides for residuary power to the Tribunals. It empowers the Tribunals to decide upon any question of procedure which is not explicitly covered under the ICSID Convention, Rules, and Regulations.

Due to the heavy amount of cross-referencing/quoting done in these decisions, it is important to discuss all of them separately and conjointly. The post attempts to cull out only the important dictum from these decisions, which is required to facilitate analysis in the present article.

Hrvatska Tribunal

In the Hrvatska award, the removal of counsel was warranted because of his apparent connection with one of the arbitrators, which might have caused bias. The Tribunal found that the right to effective representation is pitted against the right to effective and unbiased proceedings. After due deliberation, the Tribunal found itself empowered to rule on this issue by virtue of Article 44 of the ICSID Convention.

Rompetrol Tribunal

The Respondent in the Rompetrol decision cited the Hrvatska decision as the sole authority to buttress their argument regarding ICSID Tribunals’ authority to exclude counsel from the proceedings. The Tribunal found that it has inherent power to exclude counsels under Article 44 of the ICSID Convention but refused to exercise the same in the present dispute. According to this Tribunal, this power should only be used in exceptionally uncommon circumstances, where the integrity of the whole proceeding is in question/dispute.

Edmond and Fraport Tribunals

In the decision rendered in Edmond dispute also the Tribunal reiterated that it has the power to exclude participation of counsel under Article 44 of the ICSID Convention. In this case, both parties agreed to this power of the Tribunal without any disagreements. The Tribunal emphasised once again on the requirement of using this power sparingly and only in certain circumstances. It should be used only to protect the integrity and fairness of the proceedings, and to ensure equality of the parties. The Tribunal heavily quoted from the Fraport decision, which also reached similar conclusion. The Fraport Tribunal also imposed the necessary contours of “ensuring fair conduct of the proceedings” while exercising its power under Article 44 of the ICSID Convention.

Theodre Einarsson Tribunal

Another important decision in this aspect is of the Theodore Einarsson Tribunal, where the Tribunal while deliberating on removal of a counsel outlined that the ICSID Tribunals do not have the power to police the compliance of counsels with their deontological or ethical mandates imposed by any local code/rule. It reasoned that since the issue of removal attacks the core of the fairness of proceedings and thereby a mandate of ICSID Tribunal.

The Contours of the Power of ICSID Tribunals to Control Representation of Counsels

The Tribunals in all the above-quoted disputes have reasoned that the power to remove counsel is exercised to ensure the fairness and integrity of the proceedings. In both of the decisions in Fraport and Theodore, the Tribunals refused to look into the counsel’s deontological or ethical mandate. They found it outside the purview of their authority, and a question that is to be decided by local or regional courts.

It can be understood that the ICSID Tribunals have been reluctant to rule on anything else apart from simply the participation of a counsel. The Author believes that the power to exclude also includes the power to include counsel by overriding the choice of the parties. One important aspect to highlight is the conditions or situations where a counsel can be removed from the ongoing proceedings.

Ruling on Counsel’s request for removal

The five above-referenced awards did not concern any situation where the Tribunal was required to address a counsel’s request to resign. In almost all of them, there was some kind of bias or conflict between the challenged counsel and an arbitrator. There may arise a situation where the counsel wishes to resign, whether on a voluntary basis or per the desire of an either party that wants their counsel to discontinue representation. In these scenarios, as already stated, the courts generally use their wisdom to decide based on the peculiar facts and circumstances of every case. Generally, counsels decide to withdraw their representation when there is a breakdown of any attorney-client relationship. In simpler words, it is when the attorney has lost faith in his client and their case or vice versa. It is breakdown to such an extent where the representation would only harm the case of the client. Also, it is important to note that the withdrawal should not cause undue or unreasonable delay to the proceeding. This also means that there should be no prejudice caused to any of the parties involved from the withdrawal of a Counsel.

In the Jean-Bosco trial, the International Criminal Tribunal (hereinafter “ICT”) for Rwanda denied withdrawal/replacement of counsel because of the possibility of undue delay in the proceedings that would cause prejudice to the parties. It was highlighted in the Jean-Bosco decision, that it is extremely essential for a new counsel to acquaint themselves with the facts, documents and figures of the existing case. Sometimes, this process of getting acquainted with everything also causes an undue delay in the proceedings, and the Courts have rejected the withdrawal for this reason. This similar reasoning was also employed by the ICT for Rwanda in the Jean-Bosco Trial to arrive at the decision of rejecting the withdrawal/replacement of counsel.


Suggestions and Conclusion

There is an apparent dearth of awards and decisions by ICSID Tribunals on the issue of counsel withdrawal/exclusion. The available awards reiterate the similar reasoning applied by the Tribunals in every dispute. There seems to be a well-founded reluctance by ICSID Tribunals to adjudicate over counsel’s withdrawal or exclusion with full vigour. ICSID Tribunals are constituted mainly to resolve the dispute between investors and States. The contours of a Tribunal’s powers are well-defined in ICSID Convention, Rules, and Regulation. Thus, the Tribunal finds itself in a quagmire or conundrum where the chances of overreach exist. In the light of various awards highlighted in this article, it is abundantly clear that the ICSID Tribunals have discovered their inherent power to decide on any question of “procedure” of the dispute flowing from Article 44 of the ICSID Convention. Issues of counsel’s conduct and obligations are not the mandate of ICSID Tribunals. If the Tribunals are given unfettered power to decide upon the issue of counsel’s ethical obligations, it would open a floodgate of proceedings and would further cause delay in proceedings. This would defeat the purpose of arbitration proceedings, where the primary aim is to promote expediency and efficiency.

If a further step could be taken, the ICSID Convention should insert an explicit provision defining the power of its Tribunals to decide upon the issue of counsel resignation/removal, in cases of apparent bias/conflict with the arbitrator or irrevocable breakdown of attorney-client relationship. To develop their contours or limits, the Tribunals may take assistance from decision of local courts and also of international tribunals where the issue of counsel resignation has been discussed in length.


*Aarya Parihar B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) | Candidate of 2026 Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University.


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