Lex Mercatoria: scope and application of the law merchant in arbitration
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Arbitration is the preferred method of dispute resolution in international trade. Naturally, a set of rules is necessary to govern the conflict’s resolution. For cultural, political, economical or other reasons the parties’ national laws may not serve the individual interests and needs of that particular contract well. If one wants to avoid the application of both parties’ national laws, one can choose that the contract be governed by an a-national legal standard, e.g. general principles of International Trade Law or the general usages of a particular trade. These internationally accepted principles of law governing contractual relations are called lex mercatoria (law merchant). Lex mercatoria already existed in the Middle Ages and can even be dated back to antiquity. Later it disappeared through the nationalization of International Trade Law and was rediscovered in the 1950s, when international traders were again creating their own law and disputes were increasingly resolved outside of the national jurisdictions and applying a-national law. Lex mercatoria is being applied more and more by arbitrators and is therefore becoming increasingly important for dispute resolution in International Trade. Numerous different concepts and theories of lex mercatoria have been developed. Its being an autonomous legal system is questioned by some authors and the doctrine in favour of it called unfounded. The critics also argue that the authority to apply lex mercatoria may be a recipe for amateurism and the substitution of the arbitrator’s private preferences for the parties’ intentions, for itis easy to proclaim common principles on the basis of limited knowledge. The lex mercatoria is said only to exist because scholars talk about it. However, these and other allegations can be refuted by critically analyzing the arguments that are supposed to underline those assumptions. Applying lex mercatoria to solve international trade disputes has many advantages. By choosing lex mercatoria the parties avoid rules which are unfit for international contracts, e.g. peculiar formalities, brief cut-off periods and special difficulties created by domestic laws. In addition to that, neither of the parties has the advantage of having the dispute governed by his own law. Since one of the central rules is the principle of good faith and fair dealing, lex mercatoria neither leads to arbitrary results nor does it favour the rich. Is it possible for the arbitrators to apply lex mercatoria if no law has been chosen by the parties? The failure of the parties to indicate a choice could well mean that they did not wish to have their contract governed by any of their national laws. In some awards arbitrators applied lex mercatoria as they considered the community of international merchants to be autonomous and to exist beyond national legislation. However, it cannot be deduced from the absence of such a choice that the parties have impliedly chosen lex mercatoria to be the law governing the conflict. Lex mercatoria is applicable only as a subsidiary law in cases where no national law has been chosen and seems apt.