Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia gives guidance on award enforcement

In an appellate judgment, the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia has ruled that a foreign arbitral award is not enforceable because the arbitral tribunal was not constituted strictly in accordance with the parties’ arbitration agreement. Notably, the decision also considers the courts’ discretion to enforce an award even where a party establishes a ground for non-enforcement, an issue on which there was previously “no authoritative statement in Australia”.

The Full Court allowed an appeal from its first instance decision that enforced a foreign award pursuant to the International Arbitration Act 1974 (Cth).

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Hong Kong court sets aside award for wrongful identification of party

In arbitral proceedings where the respondent was wrongly named, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance has set aside the arbitral award on the basis that the named respondent is not a party to the arbitration agreement and was not given proper notice of the proceedings. This rare example of a successful set-aside application demonstrates that the courts will be prepared to overturn an award where a statutorily prescribed ground is clearly established.

AB v CD [2021] HKCFI 327

Background

The dispute arose out of an agreement between AB Bureau and CD (Agreement). Pursuant to the arbitration clause in the Agreement, CD issued a Notice of Arbitration in April 2019. Consistent with the Agreement, the Notice of Arbitration named AB Bureau as respondent. However, after the Notice of Arbitration was issued, a series of events occurred which ultimately led to the set-aside application:

  • In July 2019, CD submitted an Amended Notice of Arbitration revising the name of respondent from “AB Bureau” to “AB Bureau also known as AB Bureau Co, Ltd”.
  • The critical event took place in November 2019, when CD applied to the sole arbitrator to “correct” respondent’s name from “AB Bureau” to “AB Engineering”. In support of its application, CD relied on AB Engineering’s website which, CD submitted, showed that AB Bureau was the predecessor of AB Engineering.
  • Following CD’s request, the sole arbitrator issued a procedural order giving effect to the name change and ordering that no further service of notice was necessary.
  • In March 2020, the final Award was issued, with AB Engineering named as the respondent. Neither AB Bureau nor AB Engineering participated in the arbitration.

AB Engineering, the award debtor, applied to set aside the Award on the basis that:

  • AB Engineering was not a party to the Agreement, and there was no valid arbitration agreement between AB Engineering and CD (Article 34 (2)(a)(i) of the UNCITRAL Model Law);
  • the Award contained decisions on matters beyond the scope of the submission to the Arbitration (Article 34(2)(a)(iii) of the Model Law); and
  • AB Engineering was not given proper notice of an arbitrator or of the arbitration proceedings (Article 34 (2) (a) (ii) of the Model Law).

It was not disputed that if AB Engineering succeeded on any of the above grounds, the Court could set aside the Award.

Decision

It became clear at the court hearing that AB Bureau and AB Engineering were at all times two separate and distinct legal entities. CD nevertheless sought to enforce the Award on the grounds that AB Engineering was a party to the agreement and was estopped from applying to set aside the Award. Mimmie Chan J rejected both arguments.

CD’s primary case was that AB Engineering was a party to the Agreement by virtue of the definition of AB. In the Agreement, AB is defined to mean “AB Bureau or any other Affiliated entity”. On a proper construction of the Agreement, the Court found that the Agreement was made between CD and AB Bureau only and there was no evidence that AB Engineering had had any role in the performance of the Agreement. This distinguished the case from Giorgio Armani SpA v Elan Clothes Co Ltd [2020] 1 HKLRD 354, where the underlying agreement was expressly made “by and between” the parent company, SpA, “together with its branch offices and Affiliates”. The Court disagreed with CD’s “self-drawn conclusion” and found that there was no statement on AB’s website capable of indicating that AB Bureau and AB Engineering were the same legal entity.

The Court further noted that, even if AB Engineering could be said to be a party to the Agreement, it had not been given proper notice of the arbitral proceedings. The two notices of arbitration were never sent to the proper registered address of AB Engineering and were in any case addressed to AB Bureau. As such, no adequate notice of the arbitration had been given to AB Engineering, the award debtor.

CD also contended that AB Engineering was estopped from applying to set aside the Award because its employees had misled CD to believe that AB Bureau and AB Engineering were the same entity. This argument was rejected by the Court on the grounds that CD had not relied on the employees’ statements. On the evidence, CD relied solely and erroneously on AB Engineering’s website rather than on the alleged misrepresentation. In this connection, the Court emphasised that “it is incumbent on a claimant and its legal advisers to identify the proper defendant/respondent and to verify its name, particularly after query has been raised. It is no excuse for CD and its legal advisers now to put the blame on employees of Bureau/AB Engineering for any misnomer in the name of the party CD seeks to bring proceedings against.

In light of the above, Chan J held that the Award should be set aside under Article 34(2)(a)(i) and (ii) of the Model Law.

Comment

It is rare for a Hong Kong court to set aside an arbitral award, but it will not hesitate to do so if the award debtor can clearly demonstrate a statutory ground for set aside and the court considers set aside is justified.

Here, the similarities in the names of companies involved, the non-participation of the named respondent, and CD’s reliance on online sources all contributed to CD naming the wrong party and, ultimately, persuaded the court that the Award should not stand.

The judgment turns heavily on its facts, rather than marking any general change to the courts’ pro-enforcement approach. However, it emphasises the need for claimants to identify each counterparty carefully before commencing arbitration, especially when a complex corporate structure is involved, or risk losing the benefit of their awards.

May Tai
May Tai
Managing Partner - Asia
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Simon Chapman
Simon Chapman
Partner
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Kathryn Sanger
Kathryn Sanger
Partner
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Briana Young
Briana Young
Professional Support Consultant
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Malaysian High Court clarifies limits of post-award court intervention

For the first time in recent years, the Malaysian courts have clarified the limits of judicial intervention under Malaysian law once an arbitral award has been issued.

The Malaysian High Court held that the powers of Malaysian courts in respect of arbitral awards are limited to their recognition and enforcement under Section 38 of the Arbitration Act 2005 (AA). It follows that Malaysian courts cannot grant relief or orders in respect of an award unless recognised in Malaysia pursuant to Section 38 AA. This may have implications for enforcement strategies with a Malaysian nexus.

Danieli & C Officine Mecchaniche SPA v Southern HRC Sdn Bhd (WA-24NCC-471-10/2020)

Background

The Plaintiff, an Italian company, entered into an agreement with the Defendant, a Malaysian company, for the construction of a hot rolled coil plant in Malaysia (Plant) and a related services agreement. Both contracts required disputes to be arbitrated in Singapore.

Disputes arose and were referred to arbitration, in which the parties cross-claimed for, among other things,  damages. They made submissions on the return of the Plant to the Plaintiff and the condition of the Plant in such event. The arbitrators found in the Defendant’s favour and awarded damages against the Plaintiff, which were reduced to reflect the diminution in the value of the Plant, sums previously paid by the Plaintiff and the Defendant’s previous use of the Plant.

The Plaintiff resisted demands for payment of the award and made payment conditional on the Defendant granting it access to the Plant to determine its condition and operability. This was rejected by the Defendant noting that site access would only be given once the Plaintiff had paid the award.

Court proceedings

Concurrently, the Defendant initiated Italian court proceedings to enforce the arbitral award. The Plaintiff resisted the Italian proceedings and applied to the Malaysian High Court for various declarations and orders allowing it to inspect the Plant and equipment referenced in the arbitral award. Neither party sought to enforce the award in Malaysia.

Notably, the Plaintiff was not seeking relief under the AA, but the Specific Relief Act 1950 and Rules of Court 2012 (ROC) instead. In its application, the Plaintiff noted that the inspection could have a material impact on the Italian recognition proceedings and asserted a genuine interest in having its rights declared and the condition of the Plant verified before making any payment of the award sum.

The Defendant resisted the Plaintiff’s application and, in turn, applied to the Malaysian High Court for a declaration that it lacked jurisdiction over the Defendant in respect of the Plaintiff’s relief (Order 28 rule 3B(f) ROC). The Defendant argued that, where an arbitral award has been rendered, the Court’s powers under the AA are limited to enforcing the award, therefore the Court had no jurisdiction to grant the relief requested by the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff disagreed, contending that the relief sought was not governed by the AA in which case the Court could invoke its inherent jurisdiction to grant such relief.

The Defendant also contended that arbitration was the proper forum to grant the Plaintiff’s relief. The Plaintiff, who had not invoked this right during the arbitration, denied that this was a relevant factor.

Malaysian High Court decision

The Malaysian High Court dismissed the Plaintiff’s application, finding that the Malaysian courts’ powers in respect of arbitral awards are limited to their recognition and enforcement under Section 38 AA – the equivalent of Article 35 of the UNCITRAL Model Law 2006 (ML).

The Court emphasised the restriction under Section 8 AA (which mirrors Article 5 ML) that “no court shall intervene in matters governed by this Act, except where so provided in this Act.” Section 8 AA, in the Court’s view, was intended to discourage reliance on the Malaysian courts’ inherent powers and restrict judicial intervention to those situations listed in the AA.

The AA, as the Court noted, does allow for judicial intervention in support of arbitration. The central provision is Section 11 AA, which permits an arbitral party to apply to the Malaysian High Court for any interim measure “before or during arbitral proceedings“. However, the Court pointed out that there was no similar provision for judicial intervention upon the conclusion of arbitral proceedings. In view of the Section 8 restriction, Malaysian courts could not grant any other relief in respect of an arbitral award once issued.

The Court viewed the Plaintiff’s conduct during the arbitration proceedings as a relevant factor, in particular that the Plaintiff did not exercise its opportunity to apply for the relief sought during the arbitration. The circumstances indicated that the relief sought was intended to re-open matters already decided in arbitration or an attempt to attack the award in the Italian recognition proceedings. Malaysian courts would decline to intervene on such occasions.

Further, the Court disagreed that this was a situation warranting resort to the Court’s inherent jurisdiction. Although accepting that Section 8 AA does not preclude the Court’s inherent jurisdiction to determine matters not expressly governed by the statute (La Kaffa International Co Ltd v Loob Holding Sdn Bhd & Anor [2018] 9 CLJ 593), the Court held that the Plaintiff’s application was not such a circumstance.

Key takeaways

Overall, the High Court’s decision illustrates the pro-arbitration inclination of Malaysian courts. Even where an application is not brought under the AA, the Malaysian courts will firmly apply the principles and spirit of the statute and the ML to ensure the finality of arbitral awards even where seated in foreign jurisdictions.

Nevertheless, the decision appears to restrict the right of parties to post-award judicial assistance, which could arguably include those in aid of enforcing arbitral awards in Malaysia, such as examination of judgment debtor proceedings (Order 48 ROC). Such orders are vital tools for information gathering in order for an award creditor to determine how it might enforce the award. Parties intending to seek such orders from Malaysian courts must now ensure that they first register the relevant arbitral award in Malaysia under Section 38 AA.

A further point of interest is that, while the decision analyses the interplay of Sections 11 and 38 AA and the court’s inherent jurisdiction, the High Court did not have the opportunity to consider how this analysis interacts with Section 19J AA (as adapted from Article 17J ML). Briefly, Section 19J AA  empowers the Malaysian High Court to issue interim measures “in relation to arbitration proceedings, irrespective of whether the seat of arbitration is in Malaysia…in accordance with its own procedures in consideration of the specific features of international arbitration“. While both Sections 11 and 19J AA give Malaysian courts the power to issue interim measures in relation to arbitration proceedings, Section 19J is worded more expansively. Further, unlike Section 11 AA, Section 19J is not expressly limited to interim measures “before or during arbitral proceedings“. It will be interesting to see how future Malaysian decisions approach this difference in wording.

For now, it is clear that Malaysian courts will endeavour to uphold the finality of arbitral awards regardless of where the arbitral seat is located.

For further information, please contact Peter Godwin, Lim Tse Wei, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Peter Godwin
Peter Godwin
Managing Partner, Kuala Lumpur
+60 3 2777 5104
Tse Wei Lim
Tse Wei Lim
Associate
+60 3 2777 5135

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer

Herbert Smith Freehills LLP is licensed to operate as a Qualified Foreign Law Firm in Malaysia. Where advice on Malaysian law is required, we will refer the matter to and work with licensed Malaysian law practices where necessary.

Hong Kong and Mainland China Enter Supplemental Arrangement Concerning Mutual Enforcement of Arbitral Awards

On 27 November 2020, the Chinese Supreme People’s Court and the Hong Kong Department of Justice signed the Supplemental Arrangement Concerning Mutual Enforcement of Arbitral Awards between the Mainland and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Supplemental Arrangement). The Supplemental Arrangement modifies and supplements the existing Arrangement Concerning Mutual Enforcement of Arbitral Awards between the Mainland and the HKSAR which was signed on 21 June 1999 and came into effect on 1 February 2000 (1999 Arrangement).

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ENFORCING COURT CAN GRANT WIDER RELIEF THAN AWARD, SAYS HONG KONG COURT

The long-running case of Xiamen Xinjingdi Group Co Ltd v Eton Properties Limited and Others [2020] HKCFA 32 finally came to an end when the Court of Final Appeal (the CFA) handed down its decision on 9 Oct 2020. In the judgment, the CFA clarifies that in a common law enforcement action on an arbitral award, the enforcing court has the power to grant relief that is wider than that in the award.

Xiamen Xinjingdi Group Co Ltd v Eton Properties Limited and Others [2020] HKCFA 32

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CIETAC tribunal applies UNIDROIT Principles where parties fail to present case under governing law

While commercial parties are generally free to select the law that governs their contracts, they must also ensure that they understand the law they selected, and can actually apply that law to the contract.  In a CIETAC arbitral award published by CIETAC in its publication “Selection of Arbitration Cases Involving the Belt and Road Countries”, a sole arbitrator came up with a creative solution in a situation where the parties failed to present their cases under the governing law of the contract.  The arbitrator applied the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts to determine the legal issues in dispute.  Despite this arbitrator’s willingness to “think outside of the box”, the case is a reminder that parties must consider the legal and practical implications of their contractual choices.

Background

On 24 September 2012, the Indonesian Respondent EPC contractor entered into an EPC Sub-Contract (Agreement) with the Mainland Chinese First Claimant and Indonesian Second Claimant to build a coal-fired power plant located in Indonesia.  The governing law of the Agreement was Singapore law and disputes were referred to arbitration at the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC).

The Project was stayed at the preliminary design stage.  The Claimants contended that the Respondent had failed to provide permanent use of the road to access the Project’s site and failed to provide location details of the main entrance of the Project, which resulted in the Claimants’ delay in providing the preliminary design drawings to the Respondent.  The Respondent in return blamed the Claimants for their delay in submitting the preliminary design drawing within the time limits as provided under the Agreement; and called the advance payment bonds and performance bond just before the Claimants completed and submitted the preliminary design drawings.  After calling the bonds, the Respondent refused to pass the preliminary design drawing to the Employer for review and approval.  As a result, performance under the Agreement was suspended.

The Claimants commenced arbitration and sought a declaration that the Agreement was terminated due to the Respondent’s breach.  The Claimants also sought an order for the Respondent to return the called amounts of the performance bond; to return the difference between the amount of the advance payment bonds and advance payment to the Claimants; damages, and interest.

The governing law issue

The parties had expressly selected Singaporean law to govern the Agreement.   However, neither party engaged Singaporean counsel or legal experts when arguing their cases in the arbitration. The Claimants submitted their pleadings based on Chinese law.  Whilst the Respondent objected to the application of Chinese law, it merely submitted a Singaporean legal expert report with a few Singapore court cases in support, which was very limited in substance and did not touch upon the major issues in dispute.

Despite the sole arbitrator’s instructions, the parties failed to provide sufficient Singaporean legal authorities.  The sole arbitrator referred to Article 49 of the CIETAC Arbitration Rules, which provides: “[t]he arbitral tribunal shall independently and impartially render a fair and reasonable arbitral award based on the facts of the case and the terms of the contract, in accordance with the law, and with reference to international practices”, and proposed that the parties submit their cases under the UNIDROIT Principles.  If any party considered there was a conflict between Singaporean law and the UNIDROIT Principles, it could make submissions accordingly.   The parties accepted this solution and submitted pleadings based on the UNIDROIT Principles.

The sole arbitrator found that the Claimants had breached the Agreement by delaying the initial design drawings.  However, the sole arbitrator held that the Respondent’s response to the Claimants’ breach, by calling the bonds in full and refusing to submit the initial drawing to the Employer, had been disproportionate to the breach.  In the arbitrator’s view, the Respondent’s call on the bonds made it impossible for the Claimants to continue performing the Agreement.

In the arbitrator’s view, the Respondent’s call on the bonds therefore constituted a fundamental breach of the Agreement.  The arbitrator relied on the UNIDROIT Principles to uphold the Claimants’ claim that they were entitled to terminate the Agreement, and to determine the consequences of that termination.  The arbitrator reasoned that the UNIDROIT Principles reflect good practice and general principles in international commercial contracts.  Unless either party could demonstrate otherwise, the sole arbitrator held that he had no reason to believe there was any inconsistency between Singapore law and the UNIDROIT Principles.

Comment

In practice, many arbitrators would not proactively apply a non-binding codification of transnational legal principles to resolve a dispute where parties have explicitly chosen the governing law of the contract.  The published award does not elaborate on why the tribunal proposed applying the UNIDROIT Principles.  However, it does indicate that Chinese arbitrators may be increasingly open to applying international legal principles when dealing with foreign-related commercial disputes.

Nevertheless, this case appears to be a one-off, and it would be unwise for parties to rely on an arbitrator’s willingness to adopt creative solutions of this kind.  Parties who take advantage of the contractual freedom to select a neutral governing law must be prepared to argue their cases under that law, i.e. to instruct counsel or experts who are qualified to practice that law.  If parties do not apply the selected governing law in the arbitration, they must be prepared for the additional time and expense involved in determining which laws apply before the substantive claims can be heard, not to mention the risk of an unexpected outcome if the law applied produces an unfavourable decision.

[1] This award was published by CIETAC in the Selection of Arbitration Cases Involving the Belt and Road Countries, at pages 58 to 105.

Helen Tang
Helen Tang
Partner
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Jean Zhu
Jean Zhu
Counsel, Kewei
+86 10 6535 5041
Yingtong Chen
Yingtong Chen
Legal Assistant, Kewei
+86 10 6535 5133

English Court rejects section 68 challenge on the primary ground that the Tribunal’s decision was a Procedural Order and not an Award

In the recent case of ZCCM Investments Holdings PLC v Kansanshi Holdings PLC & Anor [2019] EWHC 1285 (Comm), the English Court (the Court) rejected a challenge under s.68 of the English Arbitration Act 1996 (the Act) and provided useful guidance on the test for determining whether a tribunal’s decision qualifies as an award for the purpose of a s.68 challenge.

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