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Participants in international commercial arbitration have long recognized the need to maintain arbitration as an effective and therefore attractive alternative to litigation, while still ensuring that its use is predicated on the consent of the parties and that the resulting awards command respect. A priori, at least, all participants – parties, counsel, arbitrators, arbitral institutions – have an interest in ensuring that arbitration delivers the various advantages associated with it, notably speed, economy, informality, technical expertise, and avoidance of national fora, while producing awards that withstand judicial challenge and otherwise enjoy legitimacy.

National courts play a potentially important policing role in this regard. Most jurisdictions have committed their courts to do all that is reasonably necessary to support the arbitral process. Among the ways courts do so is by ensuring that arbitral proceedings are initiated and pursued in a timely and effective manner. But those same courts are commonly asked by a party resisting arbitration to intervene at the very outset to declare that a prospective arbitration lacks an adequate basis in party consent. No legal system that permits the arbitration of at least some disputes (and most do) is immune to the possibility that its courts will become engaged in an inquiry of that sort at the very threshold of arbitration. Each must decide how, at this early stage, to promote arbitration as an effective alternative to litigation, while at the same time ensuring that any order issued by a court compelling arbitration is supported by a valid and enforceable agreement to arbitrate. The challenge consists of identifying those issues that courts – in the interest of striking the proper balance between these two objectives – properly address at what is increasingly known, in common U.S. parlance, as the “gateway” of arbitration. This “gateway” problem is the focus of the present Article.

For purposes of this Article, I consider an arbitral regime to be effective to the extent that it operates to promote the procedural advantages I posited earlier – speed, economy, informality, technical expertise, and avoidance of national fora. While legitimacy might be defined in many different ways, I consider an arbitral regime to be legitimate (or to enjoy legitimacy) to the extent that the parties who were compelled to arbitrate rather than litigate, and will be bound by the resulting arbitral award, consented to step outside the ordinary court system in favor of an arbitral tribunal as their dispute resolution forum.


Dispute Resolution and Arbitration | International Law | Law