First in Asia to win the Nappert Prize in International Arbitration



 

Alastair Simon Chetty ’18 has become the first undergraduate student from an Asian law school to be named a winner of the 2018 Nappert Prize in International Arbitration. Established in 2014 by McGill University and endowed by arbitrator Sophie Nappert, the biennial essay competition is open to all junior scholars, junior practitioners and law students from around the world.

Alastair’s paper, “Embracing Practical Solutions in Dealing with the Distinct Shades of Abuse of Process in Investment Arbitration”, was selected from more than 80 entries to be awarded Second Place by a distinguished panel of jurors. The panel comprised Julie Bédard (Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP), Professor Lawrence Boo (National University of Singapore & Bond University), Professor Olivier Caprasse (Universities of Liège & Brussels), Professor Kun Fan (McGill University), José Feris (Squire Patton Boggs), Alexander Fessas (International Chamber of Commerce Court), Meg Kinnear (International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes), and Eduardo Zuleta Jaramillo (Zuleta Abogados Asociados).

For his win, Alastair receives CAD 2000 in prize money, and an all-expenses paid trip to Montreal to present his paper at a symposium hosted by McGill University on 1 November 2018. Alastair will also compete for the Best Oralist prize at McGill, worth another CAD 1000.

Alastair’s paper analyses arbitral jurisprudence on the topical issue of abuse of process claims in investment arbitration. It began life as a University Research Opportunities Program (UROP) Directed Research Paper submitted in Academic Year 2017/2018, and supervised by Assistant Professor Jean Ho ’03.

Below, Alastair and Assistant Professor Ho share their insights on the writing and supervision process, and what it takes to transform a student research paper into a prize-winning essay.

 

Alastair: From an interest in international law to a winning idea on investment arbitration

During my academic year-long internship with the United Nations’ Office of Legal Affairs (Codification Division) in New York, I developed a keen interest in researching international law. Hoping to pursue this interest as part of my coursework as a final year student at NUS Law, I decided to ask Professor Ho for advice. I had already written two research papers for her elective modules (International Contract Law and International Investment Law and Arbitration) and believed that she was the best person to propose next steps. We scheduled a Skype call and Assistant Professor Ho’s advice turned out to be simple, yet deeply impactful: “Pursue what interests you because you will become good at it.”

The rest of the call was spent discussing elective module choices, and the idea of writing a Directed Research paper under Assistant Professor Ho’s supervision crystallised. It was fortuitous that Assistant Professor Ho needed a student researcher to assist with the publication of her books – International Investment Law and Arbitration and State Responsibility for Breaches of Investment Contracts. Working on Assistant Professor Ho’s book projects gave me the opportunity to carefully survey the international investment law literature during the summer holiday as I worked towards sharpening the topic of my paper.

To my surprise, Directed Research turned out to be the most challenging module I took at NUS Law. Having full creative freedom to write on a topic of my own choosing was paradoxically paralysing. I often stared at the blank canvas for hours on end, afraid to begin writing as I fluctuated between “everyone’s already thought of this” and “people would think I’m crazy for saying that”. There was also a constant, nagging fear that I might be barking up the wrong tree and I would anticipatorily stress over (possibly) misinterpreting materials or leaving any stone unturned.

Yet, writing a Directed Research paper was by far the most rewarding educational experience at NUS Law. Unlike other modules that provide structured syllabi, the Directed Research process compels students to formulate their own research blueprints and crack the code independently. I learnt to maximize the myriad research resources made available to every NUS Law student (and to make advanced Google searches). My analytical and problem-solving skills were stretched to their limits. The intellectual adventure also opened my eyes to the importance of soft skills. I learnt to communicate my views professionally and reasonably, and also discovered how conveying a simplified version of one’s argument is an essential yet underrated craft.

I am very grateful to Assistant Professor Ho for making sure that I was not alone in my struggle of producing an original piece. Her wealth of experience helpfully ensured that deadlines were set realistically and that each consultation session yielded manageable, bite-sized follow-up actions. Indeed, Assistant Professor Ho’s methodical supervision helped put in place necessary structure to an otherwise overwhelming research process. Assistant Professor Ho was also constantly supportive of any direction I took with my research, and I am thankful for the many times she refrained from giving me any clear-cut answers. Amidst the unsettledness that came with painting my own picture, words like “that sounds viable” and “you’re on to something – push the analysis further!” were profoundly comforting and turned out sufficient for me to push the envelope. Assistant Professor Ho’s mentorship helped me savour the research experience, not the final research paper. Indeed, the real joys of the process came from the smaller successes, such as finding supporting evidence and successfully dealing with counterarguments.

I wish to thank NUS Law for designing an LL.B. programme that is flexible enough to suit each student’s particular strengths, and all my professors who encouraged me to travel down roads less trodden. To my family, thank you for emboldening me to take all necessary time to figure out my passions and pathways. And to my friends, in particular Jolin Chen ’17, Toh Ming Min ’17 and Mok Ho Fai ’17, thank you for our countless conversations of my paper, and of life.

 

Assistant Professor Ho: A view on research supervision

One of the least visible but most enjoyable aspects of my work at NUS Law is supervising undergraduate, graduate and doctoral research students. For many of my supervisees, the process begins with an extended consultation, followed by literature review and discussions on the paper’s outline and main arguments, before the actual writing commences. I then review their drafts and recommend revisions. While I am particular on agreed deadlines, I appreciate that every student is different, and I do not impose an ideology, a rigid schedule or an elaborate to-do list on any of them. If an argument or analysis is untenable or lacklustre, I work with the student to explore alternatives. A number of my former supervisees’ research papers have been published, usually as is, in peer-reviewed journals such as the Singapore Law Review, the Asian Journal of Comparative Law, and the Journal of International Arbitration.

Alastair’s prize-winning essay is a substantially revised and retitled version of his Directed Research paper. The central argument in the DR – that tribunals ought to but do not follow earlier awards on abuse of process claims closely enough, engendering chaotic jurisprudence – was theoretically engaging but lacked a firm anchor in legal authority and in empirical evidence. Crucially, it did not proffer any practical solution to the very practical, very current problem of foreign investors launching parallel proceedings in multiple fora against host States. For Alastair’s paper to captivate a jury of academics, practitioners, and arbitral institution leaders, it had to strike that perfect balance between intellectual rigour and practical value. After numerous revisions, Alastair conceptualised four principal categories of abuse of process claims from the considerable repository of publicly available arbitral awards, each category attracting a distinctive approach to resolution, which he then critiqued and sought to reconcile.

I am thrilled for Alastair because he has worked so hard for this. His win proves that NUS Law students can produce internationally-recognised quality research
 

 

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