Having spent the best part of the last 17 years in one arbitration or another, I thought the opening of the fantastic facilities in the BVI IAC in Road Town was the perfect time to muse on the variety of places I have attended for arbitration.
My very first experience was as a pupil barrister in 1998. The venue, 124 Aldersgate Street, was at Barbican, London in a rundown mews. Otherwise known as Cusells, you would pass the newsagents, a boarded up shop or two, an Italian deli and there, through an archway, tucked away at the end of a cobbled cul-de-sac, was one of the most famous arbitration centres in the world. You wouldn’t think it to look at it; the dustbins from the shops on the front were stored in the courtyard, the smell of the Indian restaurant down the road would waft through the windows, rubbish would blow in from the bustle of Aldersgate. To a naive young trainee barrister, it was not the centre of the London arbitration market I had imagined.
Inside, the rooms were musty, with thread bare carpets, uncomfortable chairs and toilets which were barely large enough to swing a cat in; there were entertaining vignettes of legal scenes in mouldy picture frames on the walls and stairs which were narrow and awkward to carry files up. But, time after time, the clients would book Cusells as their favourite venue and for one reason only: the food. There was a Jamaican chef who cooked a fantastic array. Come the end of the morning session, you were guaranteed a culinary treat in the basement: freshly cooked roast beef, Cotoletta alla Milanese, whole salmon, fresh salads, Eton Mess and apple pie. In those days, wine over lunch was just about still tolerated and you would see silk, arbitrator, lawyer and client enjoying a glass or too. There was a certain bon viveur atmosphere. On a good day, more than 40 people at any time would be squashed into the basement room where light just about came from a stairwell and soft lighting made you feel as if you were in an exclusive Parisian cafe.
The older lawyers would regale the juniors with stories about arbitrations past. How arbitrations would take place after work in the arbitrator’s home in the days before arbitration venues. Those days are long gone. The front room of an arbitrator’s London flat would no long fit the number of people who attend some arbitrations. Arbitration has become slick. Parties now expect professional surroundings with high tech facilities: wifi, printing facilities and video conferencing. The BVI IAC can provide just that and a concierge service to boot. It is an excellent addition to the arbitration world. If I dare say one word of advice to the BVI IAC, it's get a good chef and people will come.