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Qualities of a Good Arbitrator

by Bob Kelly, studioD

Arbitration is the most commonly used alternative to litigation in resolving a dispute. It involves the parties to a dispute submitting their issues to an impartial arbitrator, or a panel of arbitrators, to hear and determine the matter (See Reference 1). The arbitral award is final and as binding as a court judgment, so the arbitrator ought to be well-versed in the matters before him. Furthermore, since the arbitration process hinges on the arbitrator, he ought to conduct himself in a satisfactory manner that gives the disputing parties confidence in the integrity of the process.

Communication Skills

A good arbitrator displays effective communication skills by being patient, understanding, flexible and a good listener. The arbitrator is chosen by way of agreement between the disputing parties. At the hearing of the matter, he gives all the parties a chance to be heard and to fully present their grievances. Arbitration is effective when the arbitrator is patient, allowing each party to state his facts, present any physical or documentary evidence that he may have as well as hear the testimony of witnesses that he may call. Since arbitration is not a court case, parties should be allowed to present their case without any interruptions and objections. A good arbitrator is flexible and does not burden the parties with unnecessary formalities. He also ensures that he takes note of the salient points the parties raise for determination.


An arbitrator should have knowledge and expertise in the matters over which he presides. Competence is demonstrated either through academic qualifications, professional expertise in the matters that are in dispute or previous arbitration experience. A good arbitrator quickly and accurately grasps the issues in dispute and applies his knowledge in the area to make an award that conclusively ends the matter. The arbitrator should also be well-versed in arbitration rules and practices to render satisfactory decisions. For example, just like in the courts, arbitration applies res judicata, which is a legal principle that forbids parties from arbitrating matters that have already been determined by another competent arbitrator or panel of arbitrators.


An objective and impartial arbitrator lends credence and integrity to the process. A good arbitrator takes all relevant factors into account in making his decision since it is final and can rarely be appealed in court. The arbitrator needs to demonstrate objectivity and respect when dealing with the parties and refrain from taking sides before he has heard all the facts. He also ensures that the proceedings continue in an evenhanded manner and that all the people present at the forum, including he and the parties in dispute, conduct themselves courteously and with decorum. Disputing parties will more readily accept the arbitral award when the conduct of the proceedings is within reasonable expectations.


Unlike litigation, arbitration is private and confidential and a good arbitrator understands the need to maintain discretion throughout the proceedings and in the decision. The arbitrator ought not to discuss the dispute with anyone who is not involved in it and he also refrains from engaging any of the parties in private discussions. Once the matter is concluded, the arbitrator does not disclose the particulars of the outcome unless the parties give express consent for him to do so or it is required as a matter of law or public policy.