The Arbitrator And “Mandatory Rules Of Law” – Vol. 18 No. 1-2

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Author: Alan Scott Rau*

Published: April 2008

Mandatory Rules

Description: [When] we are talking about the processes by which disputes are resolved, I think it is not an overstatement to say that here too, ethical questions are likely to resolve themselves at bottom into issues of contract interpretation strongly leavened with considerations of prudence.

When presented with the topic of this panel–when asked to say something about how “international commercial arbitrators should deal with mandatory rules of law”–one’s first reaction is to say simply, “very carefully”–and then sit down. After having listened to this you may well conclude that this might after all have been the safest course–that I would have done well to yield to the temptation.

Trying to sort out my thinking on the topic has become–as so often happens–an exercise in introspection. We are all victims of the pre-existing mental structures with which we come to any intellectual exercise–captives of “the predilections and the prejudices, the complex of instincts and emotions and habits and convictions, which make the man.” Some of us never realize this– others do, but simply can’t rise above them–and still others sometimes, somehow, manage to transcend them. Here I am in the second category–as ever securely in the second rank.

So here are my preconceptions, my mental map of the terrain–bearing in mind that sweeping, unqualified propositions are most unlikely to be wise–and that striking an attitude is not, after all, quite the same thing as making an argument.


What can it possibly mean to ask–as an endless literature relentlessly exhorts us to ask–whether arbitrators have some sort of a “duty” or “obligation” to…

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*Burg Family Professor of Law, University of Texas at Austin School of Law.