26 August 2021

Lengthy arbitration proceedings are a general concern in most dispute resolution cases.  Since arbitral awards are not appealable, arbitration is considered a faster way of dispute resolution over traditional litigation, and as of year 2021, this has become even more pronounced. The new set of arbitral rules (“NCAC Rules”) of the National Centre of Arbitration of Cambodia (“NCAC”), which entered into force on 28 June 2021, has introduced an expedited procedure.  Now, when an arbitral proceeding is conducted pursuant to the expedited procedure rules, in principle, the disputing parties receive their final and binding arbitral award within 270 days as opposed to longer wait times in the past.  This expedited timeframe deadline can only be extended under exceptional circumstances. Although the expedited procedure is not available for all commercial disputes, the NCAC Rules have been worded in such a way that they allow the expedited procedure process to apply to a broad spectrum of disputes.

Which disputes may qualify for being conducted in an expedited way and what are the most significant characteristics of this newly introduced proceeding?

Application for expedited procedure

The party may file an application with the NCAC’s General Secretariat for expedited procedure processing when any of the following prerequisites is satisfied: (i) the dispute’s sum does not exceed USD 3 million, (ii) the parties agreed to the expedited procedure, or (iii) in cases of exceptional urgency.

Where a party has filed an application for expedited procedure, the NCAC Appointment and Proceedings Committee has to decide on its application, and after considering the parties’ views, and having regard to the circumstances of the case, will determine whether the arbitration proceedings merit expedited procedure processing.

Conduct of the expedited procedure

If the Appointment and Proceedings Committee accepts the application for expedited procedure, the following applies: (i) the General Secretariat may abbreviate any time limits under the NCAC Rules;  (ii) the case shall be referred to a one-member Tribunal unless the arbitration agreement provides for a three-member Tribunal; (iii) after consulting with the parties, the Tribunal may determine whether the dispute should be decided based on documents only or also include a hearing on any oral arguments as well as examining any experts and witnesses; (iv) unless in exceptional circumstances, the final award shall be made within 270 calendar days from the date when the Tribunal is constituted.

It is noteworthy that when arbitration proceedings are conducted under the expedited procedure process, the rules and procedures outlined above will apply mandatorily even if the arbitration agreement itself contains contrary conditions.

Cessation of expedited procedure

Upon either party’s request and after the parties have had an opportunity to comment, the Tribunal may, after considering any new information that becomes available and consulting with the Appointment and Proceeding Committee, order the cessation of the expedited procedure. In such a case, the same Tribunal will continue to conduct the arbitration proceedings in line with the general procedural rules.

In short, it can be said that the rules of the expedited procedure under the new NCAC Rules follow the best international practices. By and large, these provisions correspond to the procedural rules of 2016 of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre. Although the length of the proceeding is still somewhat longer than the typical 180 days under other institutions’ rules, we believe that the possibility for the parties to get their disputes resolved in an expedited, fast-track proceeding in Cambodia by highly competent arbitrators who are familiar with the Cambodian laws and legal practice here will contribute to and help further promote the NCAC.

If you have any questions regarding the NCAC new expedited procedure rules or require any further assistance on other matters, then please contact Khieu Mealy, Eszter Papp, Panharith Long of SokSiphana&associates (a member of ZICO Law).

This alert is for general information only and is not a substitute for legal advice.