Posts Tagged commercial arbitration
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  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:
- It is the seat of arbitration that determines the curial law of the arbitration, not the governing law of the contract.
- (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.
- 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.
- 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)
- Started by providing that the “arbitration shall be conducted in Lahore, Pakistan”.
- 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.
- 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.
Location, location, location. Arbitration, curial and applicable law: Shagang v Daewoo confirms the importance of venue.
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. The High Court has now 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 (e.g. such as here, the appointment of a sole arbitrator) which is to be followed.
Christopher Lockwood has a good summary of case and judgment here – I am happy to refer. Of most relevance is Hamblen J’s finding that while a choice of governing law (the substantive law of the contract) is often made express, it is far less common separately to identify curial law: most often, that is simply inferred from the place of arbitration. Moreover, while it is not commercially uncommon to separate procedure and governing law, it is quite uncommon to have ‘a bifurcation between the place of arbitration and the law governing the conduct of the arbitration there’ (at 25). In other words, seat, ‘curia’ of arbitration, which determines arbitral procedure, and geographical place or venue of arbitration, are not commonly separated. Any intention of the parties to do so, must be clearly expressed and cannot be implicitly inferred.
‘that the agreement that the arbitration is “to be held in Hong Kong” carries with it an implied choice of Hong Kong as the seat of the arbitration and of the application of Hong Kong law as the curial law.’ (at 56): location, dear readers: location, location, location.
Habas and VSC: Lex arbitri, the bootstrap principle and the irrelevance of ultra vires /excess of authority..
Postscript 1 March 2016 for a similar exercise in Greece, see here.
In Habas and VSC Steel, the Commercial Court applied the Sulamerica route (subsequently applied in Arsanovia) to determine the lex arbitri: the law applicable to the arbitration agreement. Chosen seat of arbitration proved a strong argument to identify the closest and most real connection, in spite of the argument raised that agents for the Claimant had exceeded their authority in agreeing to the arbitration agreement.
The dispute between the Claimant (“Habas”) a company incorporated in Turkey, and the Defendant (“VSC”), a company incorporated in Hong Kong, arose out an alleged contract for the sale by Habas and purchase by VSC of Reinforcing Bars (Steel) for shipment from Turkey to Hong Kong. Following a contested hearing, the Tribunal, issued an Award dated 10 July 2012. Habas challenges the Tribunal’s jurisdiction and its Award on the grounds that the Tribunal erred in finding that there was a binding arbitration agreement made between the parties because:
(1) Steel Park and/or Charter Alpha did not have actual or ostensible authority to conclude the London arbitration agreement on behalf of Habas; and
(2) there was no binding consensus on the terms of the London arbitration agreement.
The Court’s decision is crucial in further illustrating the matrix which English courts will follow in determining lex arbitri. In dismissing relevance of the alleged lack of authority, it also highlights the impact of the ‘bootstrap’ principle: Hamblen J at 109: validity is determined by the putative proper law of the contract. Determining closest connection involves a consideration of the terms of the contract as made, rather than the authority with which it was made. EU conflict of laws, too, follows this principle (in the Rome I Regulation and the recast Brussels I Regulation; with one or two corrections).
Key therefore: the bootstrap principle; as well as the usual suspect: better expressis verbis agree lex arbitri.
Aficionados of arbitration law will be aware of the long-running West Tankers saga. It pitches the English courts’ urge to uphold commercial arbitration, against the European Court of Justice’s zeal in upholding a pure (and in the case of the arbitration exception, far-fetched) lis alibi pendens rule. The battlefield at issue is the Brussels I Regulation on jurisdiction in civil and commercial matters. The Court of Justice ruled in February 2009 [Case C-185/07] that the English courts were out of their league in issuing an anti-suit injunction, prohibiting Allianz and Generali from pursuing the case in the Italian courts (on the basis of Article 5(3)’s special jurisdictional rule for tort) and obliging them to take the case to arbitration in London. Thus two cases continued: one, an arbitration proceeding, in London, with West Tankers and Erg (the initial counterparty) participating, but not Allianz and Generali (the insurers, subrograted into Erg’s rights). The other, for the Italian courts in ordinary, the current fate of which is less clear.
It would seem that West Tankers is now attempting to turn the Italian torpedo (launching proceedings in an Italian court to delay them) into a boomerang, by having the English courts enforce the arbitral award rendered in the meantime.
While this intention is not as such formulated, one assumes that this manoeuvre in part at least is meant to ensure that any judgment eventually rendered in Italy, will not be enforceable in England (or indeed elsewhere in the EU) as the High Court’s enforcement might qualify as a ‘prior’ judgment between the same parties, per Article 34 of the Regulation. One gets the feeling that West Tankers will once again end up in Luxembourg… I have an article on all the above forthcoming and will put it on SSRN once finalised.