The London Branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators likes to think that it is at the cutting edge of progress. Ms Irvinder Bakshi, the Branch's inestimable Hon Secretary, suggested that the Branch hold an evening seminar on international arbitration where all the panel speakers were women and the panel itself was chaired by a woman, and the suggestion was enthusiastically endorsed by the mainly male committee. Nobody joked about Amazon women and the one male member who recalled Aristophanes' comedy Lysistrata, where the women forcibly take over the running of the country’s affairs from the useless men, sensibly said nothing. This is the 21st century, my dear!

Thus, on 10 September 2009 a full house assembled at the prestigious Canary Wharf offices of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the world's largest law firm, to hear a seminar entitled “Current Issues In International Arbitration'. All the ladies in question were eminent practitioners in the field of international arbitration. The chair was Juliet Blanch, LCIA Board Member and head of International Arbitration at McDermott Will & Emery LLP and the panel comprised Ms Penny Madden, Counsel at Skaddens, Ms Hilary Heilbron QC of Brick Court Chambers, Professor Catherine Kessedjian, Professor of Law at the University of Panthéon-Assas in Paris, and Ms Sophie Nappert, barrister and noted international arbitration practitioner

There followed a most interesting series of talks. Penny Madden led off by discussing the topic of interim relief in international arbitration. Her message was that whereas section 44 of the Arbitration Act 1996 gave the English courts powers to grant injunctions against parties in international arbitration, some English judges had little understanding of how oppressive these powers could be in a worldwide context unless used in exceptional and urgent cases only. Hilary Heilbron followed this by discussing the enforcement of awards in international arbitration, with particular reference to the recent case Dallah v Pakistan (see ARBITRATION November 2009) where the English courts declined to enforce a Paris-seated award by a tribunal chaired by Lord Mustill. Since there are more than 140 signatories to the New York Convention, enforcement of awards in international arbitration is more effective than trying to enforce overseas a judgment obtained by litigation in the English courts. The English courts rarely refused enforcement under the convention and so the process was somewhat mechanistic (she cited two cases only where previously refusal had taken place). This was not the position abroad, so choosing the right seat of the arbitration was an important factor. Professor Kessedjian and Sophie Nappert then took the floor together in a remarkable double act and discussed the impact of EU law on arbitration with special emphasis on investment law. The learned professor was broadly a proponent of EU law whereas Sophie was broadly highly sceptical of it. In fact, there was considerable consensus between them. EU policy on investment law was an unknown quantity, being piecemeal and fragmentary and, for example, the European Commission gave certain important rights to information under a 2006 EU directive but then proceeded to block its own disclosure! Both were agreed that the Commission was interested in investment law but Sophie added that a sea change was necessary if the EU was to move forward on investment law and if international investment arbitration was to survive in any meaningful way.

As befitted the occasion, the Vote of Thanks was given by another woman, Dr Emilia Onyema, a London Branch committee member, and thereafter Skaddens generously provided the attendees with ample refreshments in a room with a bird's-eye of the Thames twenty-one floors below. Incidentally, your correspondent learnt that the majority of the wines on offer came from the vineyards, in Australia, of the family of Skaddens' own Head of International Arbitration, Karyl Nairn. House Wines, indeed!