Posts Tagged Arbitration

The Brussels International Business Court – Council of State continues to resist.

I have reported twice before on the BIBC – once viz the initial version and a second time with my short report for the Parliamentary Hearing. I have now had a minute to review the Council of State’s comments on the amended version – among others with a view to preparing for next week’s conference on hybrid courts in Doha. Note that the Council of State here acts in its advisory function: essentially its opinions aim to improve draft statute so as to avoid future litigation.

What is clear from these recent comments is that the Council does not at all embrace the regulatory competition incentives which lie at the heart of the proposal, in particular in its view on how a matter may be made ‘international’ so as to justify engagement of the BIBC. Its view (let alone the Justice Council’s fear for forum shopping?!: encouraging such shopping being the very raison d’etre of the Act) contradicts the CJEU’s flexible stance on the issue as apparent eg in Vinyls Italia. As I noted in my comments before the Committee, it is a rather odd indeed parochial requirement to insist on parties having used English in their correspondence, before they can validly engage the BIBC. Even the suggested amendment that the use of languages other than Belgium’s three official ones (French, Dutch, German) should suffice, is not convincing to the Council. One hopes the drafters will ignore the Council’s hesitation at this point.

The Council does not of course engage in the political discussions surrounding the proposal: in particular, whether in a country in which the court system arguably does not operate to satisfaction, the creation of an international commercial court may compound, rather than remedy issues.

Geert.

 

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Qingdao Huiquan: Anti-suit injunction against a non-party to exclusive choice of forum (particularly: arbitration).

Thank you 20 Essex Street for flagging (and analysing)  [2018] EWHC 3009 (Comm) Qingdao Huiquan, granting anti-suit against a foreign litigant who is not a party to an exclusive choice of forum agreement (in particular: arbitration agreed in a settlement agreement). The third party, SDHX, is engaging in proceedings in China, and is related to one of the parties to the settlement agreement.

SDHX appeal to privity of contract is tainted by its invoking elements of the settlement agreement in the Chinese proceedings. Under relevant authority, this was ground for Bryan J to issue aint-suit against it.

A classic cake and eating it scenario, one could say: at 36: ‘I have had particular regard to the fact that it is clear from the Settlement Agreement that SDHX is indeed seeking to rely upon the terms of the Settlement Agreement in advancing its claims in the Chinese proceedings and that, in doing so, therefore, it has to take the burden of the arbitration clause, if an arbitration clause be a burden,..as well as the benefits that it seeks to derive from that agreement.’

Evidently Brussels I Recast is not engaged.

Geert.

European private international law, second ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.2.10.

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Reliance: More than just the Act of State doctrine.

Popplewell J held in [2018] EWHC 822 (Comm) Reliance v India in April. This post therefore is not a claim to speedy reporting (Allen & Overy have excellent review here). Rather, a quick note on the various implications of the holding in wider context.

The Act of State doctrine (in its narrow sense) essentially holds that courts should not question the validity of acts taken by a foreign government within that government’s territory.

Claimant (at 110) ‘submitted that even if non-justiciable in an English court, (one of the relevant claims, GAVC)…is arbitrable; the basis for the doctrine of foreign act of state, to the extent that it applies, is that one sovereign state should not sit in judgment on the acts of another; unlike a court, an arbitral tribunal is not an organ of a sovereign state; therefore its determination of the validity of the conduct of a sovereign party would not entail one sovereign calling into question the conduct of another; because the rationale for the foreign act of state doctrine does not apply to arbitration, what would in court be a non-justiciable issue can nevertheless be adjudicated upon by arbitrators.’

Popplewell J disagreed in what I understand to be a first formal finding on the subject: at 111 and in discussing relevant authority:

‘whilst some aspects of the foreign act of state doctrine have as their basis the exercise of “judicial self-restraint” (leading to some suggesting it is an expression of comity, GAVC), those are not the aspects of the doctrine which are relevant to the current issue… the principle that the validity and effectiveness of legislative and executive acts of a sovereign state in relation to property within its jurisdiction is not justiciable..is a hard-edged principle of English private international law, and (the majority of authority suggests, GAVC) that its rationale derives from the very concept of sovereignty which recognises the power and right of a state to determine the property rights of those whose property is situate within its territory.’

At 113: ‘there is no good reason why the principle should be any less applicable in arbitration than in litigation before an English court. It does not depend upon the tribunal itself being an organ of a sovereign state or exercising sovereign functions: it depends upon a general principle of English private international law which recognises the sovereignty of nations within recognised spheres, a principle to which arbitration tribunals, no less than courts, are required to give effect when applying English private international law principles.’

The case is an excellent illustration of the now very diverse and not always integrated international dispute resolution landscape. A case like Reliance could have conceivably ended up in BIT arbitration – which as readers will know has its own extensive challenges with domestic regulatory autonomy and the space for investment tribunals to challenge the legality and at the least the proportionate impact of States exercising sovereign regulatory functions.

This leaves two further dispute settlement channels: the use of the courts in ordinary and the use of ‘standard’ commercial arbitration (outside the BIT context), which is what was employed here. As the judgment shows, the former (courts in ordinary) have kept some control over the latter.

Lucia Raimanova and Matej Kosalko signal that classic choice of law rules combined with contractual party autonomy empowers parties to steer the litigation away from issues that a party might wish to avoid: particularly, by opting for the most interesting lex contractus (and, I would add, potentially varying same en parcours de route, to respond to changes in case-law or statutory law), and by having the State concerned sign away its right to invoke the Act of State doctrine (much like the similar contractual surrender of sovereign immunity).

International litigation is seldom confined to singular lines of analysis.

Geert.

 

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The Brussels International Business Court – My notes for the parliamentary hearing.

Update 6 August 2018 the report of the hearing in Dutch and French is here.

I was at the Belgian Parliament yesterday for a hearing on the BIBC, following publication of the Government’s draft bill. For those of you who read Dutch, my notes are attached. We were limited to two pages of comments – the note is succinct.

An important change vis-a-vis the initial version (on which I commented here) is that the Court will now be subject to Belgian private international law (including primacy of EU instruments) for choice of law, rather than being able to pick the most appropriate law (arbitration panel style). That brings the court firmly within Brussels I. Also note my view and references on the Court being able to refer to the CJEU for preliminary review.

Geert.

 

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Nori Holdings: High Court holds that West Tankers is still good authority even following Brussels I Recast. (Told you so).

In [2018] EWHC 1343 (Comm) Nori Holdings v Otkritie  Males J follows exactly the same line as mine in commenting on West Tankers – specifically the bodged attempt in Brussels I Recast to accommodate the concerns over West Tankers’ sailing the Brussels I ship way too far into arbitral shores.

For my general discussion of the jurisdictional /arbitration issues see here. A timeline:

  • When the Council came up with its first draft of what became more or less verbatim the infamous recital 12 I was not enthusiastic.
  • When Wathelet AG in his Opinion in Gazprom suggested recital 12 did overturn West Tankers, I was not convinced. (Most of those supporting this view read much into recital 12 first para’s instruction that the Regulation does not impede courts’ power ‘from referring the parties to arbitration’).
  • Indeed the CJEU’s judgment in Gazprom did not commit itself either way (seeing as it did not entertain the new Regulation).
  • Cooke J was on the right track in Toyota v Prolat: in his view the Recast did not change West Tankers.
  • Males J confirms: West Tankers is still good authority. At 69 ff he does not just point out that Wathelet was not followed by the Court. 92 ff he adds five more reasons not to follow the suggestion that West Tankers has been overruled. He concludes ‘that there is nothing in the Recast Regulation to cast doubt on the continuing validity of the decision in West Tankers (Case C-185/07) [2009] AC 1138 which remains an authoritative statement of EU law’.

I agree.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 2.2.2.10.2.

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Atlas Power. Some heavy High Court lifting on Arbitration, curial and applicable law.

I reported earlier on Sulamerica and the need properly and preferably, expressly to provide for choice of law vis-a-vis arbitration agreements, in particular vis-a-vis three elements: lex arbitri, lex curia, lex contractus. In Shagang the High Court added its view on the possible relevance of a fourth factor: the geographical venue of the arbitration, and its impact in particular on the curial law: the law which determines the procedure which is to be followed.

Atlas Power Ltd -v- National Transmission and Despatch Co Ltd  [2018] EWHC 1052 is another good illustration of the relevance (but in practice: rarity) of the proper identification of all four factors.

Bracewell excellently identify the four take away points from Atlas Power:

  1. It is the seat of arbitration that determines the curial law of the arbitration, not the governing law of the contract.
  2. (To English Courts) the choice of the seat of arbitration is akin to an exclusive jurisdiction clause in favour of the courts of the place designated as the seat of the arbitration having the supervisory role over the arbitration.
  3. The English courts can and will use their powers to grant anti-suit injunctions to prevent a party from commencing foreign proceedings in breach of an arbitration agreement.
  4. Complex drafting increases the risk of satellite litigation and the accompanying delay and expense.

The core point which Atlas Power illustrates is that specific identification of arbitration venue, curial law, lex contractus and lex arbitri is best done in simple terms. Overcomplication, particularly variance of any of these four points, is a truly bad idea. Specifically: the arbitration clause in the contracts between the parties (text from Bracewell’s overview)

  1. Started by providing that the “arbitration shall be conducted in Lahore, Pakistan”.
  2. Then stated that if the value of the dispute was above a certain threshold or fell within a certain category, either party could require that the arbitration be conducted in London.
  3. Finally, the clause provided that, notwithstanding the previous sentences, either party may require that the arbitration of any dispute be conducted in London, provided that if the dispute did not satisfy the threshold or category requirements set out earlier in the clause the referring party would pay the costs of the arbitration incurred by the other party in excess of the costs that would have been incurred had the arbitration taken place in Pakistan.

 

Various procedural events led to Phillips J essentially having to decide: whether the parties had validly and lawfully chosen London as the seat of the arbitration (answer: yes); and whether, in light of Pakistani law (which was the law governing the contracts), the choice of London as the seat of arbitration did not result in the English courts having exclusive supervisory jurisdiction with the effect that the courts of Pakistan had at least concurrent jurisdiction (answer: no, for this would result in an unsatisfactory situation where more than one jurisdiction could entertain challenges to an award)

Variation of any litigation relevant articles really does open all sorts of cans of worms.

Geert.

 

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