Massimo Benedettelli, Applying the UNIDROIT Principles in International Arbitration: An Exercise in Conflicts, in Journal of International Arbitration, 2016, p. 653-686
The International Institute for the Unification of Private Law, which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary, published in 1994 the Principles of International Commercial Contracts. Since then the UNIDROIT Principles have been more and more often referred to by arbitral tribunals when settling contractual disputes. As a non-binding instrument of soft law, however, the UNIDROIT Principles may play a very different function depending on whether they are used as “rules of law” for the regulation of a contractual relationship, are incorporated as terms of a contract governed by a state contract law, or are means to interpret and supplement the applicable contract law or the 1980 United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods. Moreover, they can be applied pursuant to an express or implied choice made by the parties, either in the contract or after the dispute has arisen, or when the arbitral tribunal so decides by its own motion. In all such different scenarios different problems may arise for the coordination of the UNIDROIT Principles with sources of state law that have title to regulate the contractual relationship in dispute. Understanding such problems and finding a solution to them is essential in order to avoid the risk that the award may be later challenged or refused recognition. Such understanding could also foster the legitimacy of requests made by a party, or decisions taken by the arbitral tribunal, to apply the UNIDROIT Principles. It is submitted that private international law, taken as a technique for the coordination of legal systems, may offer a useful know-how to parties, counsel, arbitrators and courts for mastering such problems in a reasoned and sound way. This may result in enhancing the effectiveness of the UNIDROIT Principles, while balancing party autonomy with the sovereign interest of states in regulating international business.