In my last post, I addressed the question of whether an Arbitrator should conduct his or her own independent research of the facts outside of the evidence presented by the Parties. Now I want to address the second part of that question which deals with legal research. Succinctly put, should an Arbitrator engage in his her own legal research independent of the submissions made by the Parties or their Counsel.
It is not unusual for a Judge to refer to cases that have not been cited by Counsel that may be recent expressions of cases well known and referred to by Counsel to support one side or the other. I see no harm in that. However, once an Arbitrator embarks on his or her own to engage in legal research on an issue not raised or focused upon by the parties I believe he or she is on shaky ground and may subject their Award to a finding of arbitral error.
Underlying all arbitrations is the right of each party to know the case it needs to meet. That is inherent in the concept of a fair hearing. So for an Arbitrator to venture out on his or her own to research a legal issue that the parties have not raised or may be peripheral to the case, arguably, would be manifestly unfair. The saving grace however could be if the Arbitrator raised the legal issue with the parties that is of concern and asked them to address it, rather than doing his or her own research. This would be consistent with the direction to the Arbitrator in BCICAC Rule 19 to make a determination of the case on its merits, but in doing so treating both parties fairly and giving each an opportunity to present their case. Moreover, Rule 33 of the BCICAC Rules makes it clear any award must be decided in accordance with the law, in the absence of agreement by the Parties to do otherwise.