As GATT dispute settlement evolved, GATT disputes were referred to various types of “adjudicating” bodies over the decades. Several approaches were tested by GATT contracting parties, in particular during the first decade of GATT dispute settlement.
In the initial years of GATT dispute settlement, matters were referred to working parties composed of a group of five to seven contracting party representatives, with one representative acting as the Chairperson. These initial working parties also included representatives of the disputing parties. Later, in the 1950s, contracting parties began to refer disputes to panels, which took over the adjudicating role almost entirely after the 1970s. Panels were composed of representatives of contracting – but not the disputing – parties as well as occasionally non- governmental representatives, such as academics or former judges in contracting parties’ domestic jurisdictions.
There were different types of GATT dispute panels over the decades, and the term “panel” was sometimes used to describe groups tasked with functions other than settling a dispute.
In some cases, especially in the 1940s and 1950s, when contracting parties could not reach consensus to set up a working party or a panel, the matter was resolved directly by the CONTRACTING PARTIES, i.e. all GATT contracting parties acting jointly. In one case, the dispute remained with the GATT Council, which however did not need to resolve it in light of the disputing parties’ agreement.
The Decision of 5 April 1966 on Procedures under Article XXIII included the possibility to request the “good offices of the Director-General of the GATT” acting ex officio in cases of conciliation and dispute settlement where the complainant was a developing country. In addition, the good offices of the GATT Director-General were sometimes requested as an informal means to resolve a dispute between contracting parties.
Finally, there was one dispute where the parties jointly requested an arbitrator under the 1989 Decision on Improvements to the GATT Dispute Settlement Rules and Procedures to respond to interpretive questions submitted by the parties.