States have taken urgent and extraordinary steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and address the public health and economic crises that it has caused. Some such measures are aimed directly at the need to treat those affected by the virus, while others aim to address the virus's unprecedented economic impact on the world economy. Inevitably, some of these measures will affect foreign investors and their investments in host states, triggering investor-state disputes.
Where insolvency involves cross-border investments, foreign investors may have additional rights under international investment treaties or agreements (IIAs). IIAs are agreements between states in which the state receiving investment from an investor from the other state commits to provide certain levels of protection to those foreign investors in respect of their investment. Foreign investors often have a direct right under an IIA to commence proceedings against the host state for a breach of such commitments.
Existing dispute resolution proceedings are inevitably experiencing the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. Where possible, hearings have been delayed or relocated. However, with many lockdowns extended for the foreseeable future, some hearings will still need to be held. Notably, the American Arbitration Association acknowledges that these are appropriate times to permit (and indeed require) the use of viable alternatives to in-person hearings.
The public policy exception to the recognition and enforcement of international arbitral awards creates uncertainty with respect to the enforcement of these awards – particularly because contracting states have diverse approaches to issues of public policy. While some jurisdictions still maintain a parochial approach, recent trends invite cautious optimism that major jurisdictions are converging in the practice of adopting a narrow interpretation of the public policy exception.
Generally, parties to international arbitrations assume that decisions are final and binding and that tribunals will not – or cannot – revisit decisions once they have been made. However, circumstances may arise, such as when new evidence is discovered, that prompt parties to call for a tribunal to reconsider its prior determinations, having regard to the appropriate balance between finality and flexibility.
Existing proceedings in the national courts are inevitably experiencing the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. Where possible, hearings have been delayed or relocated. However, with many lockdowns extended for the foreseeable future, hearings will still need to be held. As such, many national courts are looking into solutions to these issues, particularly technological ones.