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YSIAC Chennai Advocacy Workshop 2019

13 April 2019
YSIAC Chennai Advocacy Workshop 2019
By Deepak Narayanan, Partner, BDN Chambers

April 13 2019 marked the dawn of the first YSIAC Advocacy workshop at the Taj Connemara in Chennai, India. The arbitration training workshop aimed to sharpen the skills of young practitioners by constructing a hypothetical dispute. Eminent arbitrators presided over a three-member Tribunal as participants embodied the roles of arbitrator, counsel, and witness in mock cross-examinations. In both the mock cross-examination sessions and the closing panel discussion, the event provided invaluable insights on how to conduct a successful cross-examination in international arbitration.

The workshop commenced with a warm welcome address from Ms. Lim Seok Hui, CEO, SIAC. Ms. Lim Seok Hui shared the objectives of YSIAC – to nurture and provide opportunities for young arbitrators – and spoke about SIAC’s expansion in India.

Mr. Ramesh Selvaraj (Co-Chair, YSIAC Committee and Partner, Allen & Gledhill LLP) then introduced the fictional case scenario - a conflict over a delay in commissioning a nuclear power plant. The underlying contract for the said project provided for a SIAC arbitration clause.

The first cross-examination session was presided over by Ms. Sheila Ahuja (Partner, Allen & Overy LLP), Mr Ganesh Chandru (Executive Partner, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan and Mr Jonathan Choo, Partner, Bird & Bird ATMD LLP) as members of the Tribunal. Mr. Anirudh Krishnan (Partner, AK Law Chambers) acted as the Respondent’s Counsel and Deepak Narayanan (Partner, BDN Chambers) was the Claimant’s first factual witness. In his role as counsel conducting the first cross-examination session, Mr. Krishnan started things off on a serious note with a mixture of open-ended and leading questions. Adding a dash of humour to the proceedings, Mr. Krishnan taunted witness Mr. Narayanan about his former role as a yoga instructor, leading Ms. Sheila Ahuja to comment “Yea, and you should definitely see some of his moves!

Subsequently, the second witness of the Claimant, Mr. Vishnu Mohan (Advocate, Madras High Court), was cross-examined by Respondent’s Counsel, Mr. Tejas Karia (Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co). The session saw relentless questioning by Mr. Karia, who added another dimension of excitement to the proceedings by asking many questions which were not part of the Case Scenario to push the witness to a corner. This certainly made the session very stimulating (and fun for the audience!). The Tribunal also played a more active role and placed their own questions to both the witnesses as well as the Counsel. Nevertheless, Mr. Vishnu (the witness) adroitly tackled the questions and came out unscathed.

In the second session, Ms. Sheila Ahuja swapped her role with Mr. Tejas Karia as the Claimant’s counsel and Mr. Karia took charge as an arbitrator. Mr. Thriyambak J Kannan, (Partner, Assentio Legal), played the part of Respondent’s first witness. Ms. Ahuja – who initially stuck to the traditional method of asking leading questions – varied her tactics to keep the witness guessing and extract favourable answers from him. In return, Mr. Kannan played an excellent witness and tackled all the questions with confidence. The tug of war between the relentless stream of questions from Ms. Ahuja and the intrepid manner in which Mr. Kannan answered them made this session all the more scintillating. Mr Kannan certainly lived up to his Case Scenario stage name – Harvey Spector! Furthermore, the Tribunal continued to be inquisitorial and at a certain time were asking more questions to the witness than Ms. Ahuja.

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Members of the audience

Group photo of speakers at the YSIAC Chennai Advocacy Workshop

The final session included Ms Khushboo Shahdadpuri (Associate, Al Tamimi & Company) playing the part of the Claimant’s Counsel, and Witness Mr P. Giridharan (Advocate, Madras High Court) playing the Respondent’s second witness. Ms. Shahdapuri’s solemn tone of questioning, coupled with Mr. Girish’s rather reassuring disposition, led to a highly realistic rendition of a cross-examination session in arbitration.

A rewarding panel discussion ensued thereafter, consisting of Ms Sheila Ahuja, Mr Ganesh Chandru, Mr Jonathan Choo and Mr Tejas Karia as panellists and Mr. Ramesh Selvaraj as the moderator. Mr. Selvaraj invited the panel to discuss the essentials of cross examination. The panel, in general, emphasised, inter alia, the importance of ‘asking leading questions’, ‘knowing the answer to the question you ask’ and on ‘prepping a witness’. Some notable takeaways from the discussions were Mr. Jonathan Choo’s advice on refraining from arguing with a witness – to avoid putting forth ‘suggestions’ as questions to witnesses. Mr. Chandru re-emphasised the importance of asking leading questions, but further added that there are some circumstances in which open-ended questions can serve to a counsel’s advantage. Ms. Ahuja and Mr. Karia, among others, discussed circumstances in which a Tribunal may overstep by asking many questions as the counsel may lose their flow due to interruptions.

The panel warmly invited questions from the audience in accordance with the interactive nature of the workshop. To a participant’s question on the ways to prep a witness, the Panel explained the importance of going through all the sets of facts in a case with the witness. The Panel also highlighted the danger of over-prepping a witness and noted that over-prepping may make the witness more defensive. This would lead the witness to think of all the legal implications before providing every answer, which would only serve to make the witness lose composure during such cross examination.

As the workshop drew to a close, the organisers thanked the Panel and participants for making themselves available from their busy schedules and making the event a great success. The members of the panel were, however, kind enough to stay back at the venue to provide advice to participants and answer further queries.

Overall, the workshop was a highly enriching experience. The diverse backgrounds of the participants underscored the diversity of international commercial arbitration. Overall, YSIAC’s efforts to organise such an event were highly commended and it is anticipated that the rising popularity of arbitration in India will see many more such events organised in the future.
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