Posts Tagged Sulamerica
Thank you Filbert Lam for yet again flagging an important case. In  EWCA Civ 6 Kabab-Ji SAL v Kout Food Group Flaux LJ extensively discussed the application of Sulamerica as to the governing law of an arbitration agreement which provides for arbitration in Paris but which is contained in a main agreement which is expressly governed by English law; and as to whether the respondent became a party to the main agreement and/or the arbitration agreement notwithstanding the presence of No Oral Modification provisions in the main contract.
Parties’ choice of English law for the underlying contract was found to also be an express choice of the law governing the arbitration agreement. This meant there was no need to consider the implications (particularly viz a possible implied choice of law) of a choice of Paris as seat or other aspects of the Sulamérica test. The award applying French law was set aside.
Jonathan Lim suggests here that the judgment is a departure from the understanding of separability in previous CA decisions, although the ensuing discussion on his feed also suggests that the factual interpretation of the clauses might suggest the exact opposite. I tend to agree with Jonathan: the generic nature of the clauses and the lack of (reported at least) other strong indications seem to suggest the finding of express choice of law was optimistic.
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.
Sulamerica applied in Arsanovia – Expressly excluding parts of a national law may lead to that law being lex arbitri.
In Arsanovia, the High Court applied the Sulamerica test for identifying the lex arbitri (see here for the judgment in Sulamerica and for the notion ‘lex arbitri’). Hodges, Kaplan and Godwin excellently review the various other elements of the case here. For current blog the finding on lex arbitri is the most relevant. In particular, Smith J found of high relevance the fact that parties had excluded part of the Indian arbitration Act: at 20:
There is another consideration that to my mind is relevant in this case: that the arbitration agreement included a specific agreement not to seek interim relief under the Indian Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“IACA”), including section 9 of that Act, and that the provisions of Part 1 of IACA were expressly excluded.(…) as I see it (…), where parties have expressly excluded specific statutory provisions of a law, the natural inference is that they understood and intended that otherwise that law would apply. Therefore to my mind the reference to IACA in the arbitration agreement supports the claimants’ contention that the parties evinced an intention that the arbitration agreement should be governed by Indian law (except in so far as they agreed otherwise).
It is not uncommon in identifying applicable law (in this case, for the arbitration agreement) to employ selective cancellation of a national aw as evidence of intention for that law to be applicable for the remainder. Whether that intention is properly present in the agreement, in the absence of a specific choice of law clause, inevitably is subject to the discretion of the bench. In the case at issue, the High Court was not swayed by the consideration that the partial exclusion of IACA was intended simply to obstruct Indian case-law on the wide jurisdictional reach of IACA in temporary relief, even for arbitration proceedings taking place outside of India.
The lesson is always the same: choose carefully, and explicitly.