Section 67 and 68 challenges to LCIA award dismissed

In the highly complex and contentious case of Filatona Trading Ltd and another v Navigator Equities Ltd and others [2019] EWHC 173 (Comm), the English High Court dismissed an attempted challenge to an LCIA award brought on the grounds of jurisdiction (s.67 Arbitration Act 1996) and serious irregularity (s.68 Arbitration Act 1996).

In particular, the Court held that an LCIA arbitral tribunal did not exceed the scope of its powers in ordering relief that was not available to an English court.

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English High Court orders indemnity costs in discontinued s.68 proceedings to challenge awards

In Koshigi Ltd and another company v Donna Union Foundation and another [2019] EWHC 122 (Comm) the English High Court considered an application for costs arising from discontinued proceedings under s.68 Arbitration Act 1996 to challenge two arbitral awards. The claimant in the underlying arbitration had successfully obtained two awards in its favour from the tribunal, which the respondents then sought to challenge in the English courts through two related sets of proceedings for serious irregularity under s.68, alleging bias on the part of the chairman of the tribunal. The respondents then discontinued the s.68 proceedings before they reached a hearing, asserting that the awards which they were seeking to challenge had become unenforceable.

In considering the claimant’s application for costs in relation to the discontinued proceedings, the Court decided that the liability for the costs rested with the applicants (the respondents in the arbitration) and that the costs should be assessed on an indemnity basis rather than the usual – and typically lower  – standard basis. The Court’s approach, which disincentivizes the pursuit of s.68 applications without a strong substantive basis, is consistent with other attempts by the English courts to block applicants who bring weak s.68 appeals.

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English High Court recognises arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction over settlement agreement in absence of express arbitration clause

In the recent decision of Sonact Group Limited v. Premuda SPA [2018] EWHC 3820 (Comm), the English High Court confirmed its pro-arbitration approach to the interpretation of arbitration agreements. The Court held that an arbitration agreement contained in a charterparty contract could apply in relation to disputes arising out of a subsequent settlement agreement contained in correspondence between the parties relating to the sum allegedly due under the charterparty. The Court concluded the parties could be taken to have intended that the arbitral tribunal under the principal agreement would also have jurisdiction over disputes arising out of a settlement agreement between the same parties, despite the absence of an express arbitration clause in the settlement agreement.

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English court provides new guidance on summary dismissal process for groundless serious irregularity challenges

The English High Court has in the last few days proposed a procedurally strict approach to serious irregularity challenges under s68 of the Arbitration Act 1996 where these have already been dismissed on paper. The decision in Midnight Marine Ltd v Thomas Miller Speciality Underwriting Agency Ltd [2018] EWHC 3431 (Comm) suggests that the court should take a more active role in preventing such hearings from escalating into a full s68 challenge hearing (case available here).

The High Court’s earlier decision in the case of Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria v Qatar National Bank [2018] EWHC 2218 (Comm) covered in our previous blog post, demonstrated the difficulty in disposing of bad s68 challenges quickly. This judgment emphasised that an oral hearing will usually be granted after a challenge is thrown out on paper, unless the case is “something akin to vexatious“. In this case, the summary dismissal of the s68 challenge was nevertheless followed by two further applications, and an oral hearing, before the challenge was finally thrown out.

Both of these recent cases promote the summary dismissal process in paragraph O8.5 of the Commercial Court Guide as a useful tool for weeding out unmeritorious s68 challenges, but the decisions differ on how to treat applications to set aside orders dismissing such challenges. The decision in Midnight Marine v Thomas Miller takes a tougher line than the earlier Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria v Qatar National Bank decision, suggesting that the oral hearing referred to in the summary dismissal process should be a very short hearing, directed only at the question of whether the application has a real prospect of success.

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English Court upholds on paper dismissal of serious irregularity challenge with no prospects of success

The English High Court’s decision in Asset Management Corporation Of Nigeria v Qatar National Bank [2018] EWHC 2218 (Comm), handed down in July 2018 but only recently published, concerned the court’s dismissal on the papers of an application under section 68 of the Arbitration Act 1996 on the basis that the application had no reasonable prospect of success (available here: https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Comm/2018/2218.html).

The decision serves as an example of the court employing the summary procedure to dismiss a section 68 application on the papers, but the drawn out process highlights the practical difficulties in quickly disposing of meritless applications.

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Arbitrator’s independent inquiries amount to a serious irregularity – English court remits award back to arbitrator

The English High Court has upheld a challenge to an arbitration award on the grounds of serious irregularity, in Fleetwood Wanderers Ltd (t/a Fleetwood Town Football Club) v AFC Fylde Ltd [2018] EWHC 3318 (Comm). The Court held that the sole arbitrator’s conduct in making independent investigations after the substantive hearing, without notifying the parties and without giving them an opportunity to respond, breached the tribunal’s general duty under s33 of the UK Arbitration Act 1996 (the “Act“), and amounted to a serious irregularity under s68 of Act. The award was remitted back to the arbitrator for reconsideration.

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English High Court refuses to set aside order for enforcement under s103 in long-running dispute regarding ICC award

The English High Court has refused an application under s.103 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (“AA 1996“) to set-aside an order allowing for the enforcement of an ICC award in England. The decision is the culmination of a long-running dispute in which the award debtor has sought to set-aside the award and prevent enforcement in France, the Seychelles and England. The judgement is the latest illustration of the pro-enforcement approach of the English courts with respect to international arbitral awards, particularly where an award debtor has made efforts in multiple jurisdictions to prevent enforcement against it. While the outcome is not surprising, the level of attention given to the grounds raised by the award debtor, even in the face of issue estoppel, demonstrates the importance placed by the English Court on its New York Convention obligations.

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English court sets aside arbitration award for serious irregularity due to tribunal’s non-disclosure of novel point central to award

The odds of successfully challenging an arbitral award in the English Courts on the basis of s68 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (serious irregularity) remain low. In the recent past over 95% of s68 challenges have been unsuccessful and in the period from 2015 to 2017 only 3 out of 112 s68 appeals succeeded, approximately 2.7% of applications made.

However, the English High Court has recently set aside an arbitral award for serious irregularity under s68(2)(a) in the case of RJ and another v HB [2018] EWHC 2833 (Comm). This case is a relatively rare and interesting example of a successful s68(2)(a) challenge.

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Implied horizontal contract prompts stay of proceedings S9 AA 1996

In Mercato Sports v Everton[1], the English High Court found that two parties were bound by an implied horizontal contract containing an arbitration clause. Accordingly, it granted a stay of proceedings under section 9 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (‘S9 AA 1996’). In this case, a football agent (the Claimant)[2] sought payment for bringing a player to the attention of Everton (the Defendant) and by doing so, it enabled them to sign the player. While Claimant and Defendant had no direct contractual relationship, the Court established that both were bound by the Football Association’s Rules (‘FA Rules’), in particular by the arbitration agreement therein. While the Court emphasized that such arrangements would not always automatically lead to an implied horizontal contract, the parties’ dealings in this case did lead to an implied contractual relationship, governed by the FA Rules.

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Reliance v Union of India: English Court confirms that there is no serious irregularity under s68(2)(a) if an issue of construction decided by the tribunal is “squarely in play”

In Reliance Industries Limited & Ors v The Union of India [2018] EWHC 822 (Comm) the English commercial court (the Court) considered a number of challenges to parts of an arbitration award brought under sections 67, 68 and 69 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (the  Act).

The decision provides useful guidance regarding the requirements to be satisfied should a party wish to challenge an award due to a “serious irregularity” under the Act. In particular, the Court confirmed that the general duty under s33 of the Act to give each party a reasonable opportunity to present its case was satisfied if the “essential building blocks” of the tribunal’s analysis and reasoning were in play in relation to an issue, even where the argument (in this case on a point of construction) was not articulated in the way adopted by the tribunal.

In addition to the issues discussed in this blog post, the Court considered the foreign act of state doctrine. This challenge is discussed in a post on our Public International Law Notes blog here.

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