Hong Kong – Mainland interim relief arrangement: full text and more detail

 

Following Tuesday’s announcement of the Arrangement Concerning Mutual Assistance in Court-ordered Interim Measures in Aid of Arbitral Proceedings by the Courts of the Mainland and of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Arrangement), the Supreme People’s Court of China has released the full official text (in Chinese).  The Hong Kong Government has also provided a courtesy English translation on its website.  We expect that the official English text will be released closer to the time when the Arrangement comes into force.

 

Application process

Readers of this blog may be very familiar with seeking interim orders in the Hong Kong High Court in aid of on-going or prospective arbitrations seated in Mainland China, under section 45 of the Hong Kong Arbitration Ordinance (Cap. 609).

The key distinction of the “mirror image” in Mainland China is that parties to a Hong Kong-seated arbitration do not apply directly to the competent Intermediary People’s Court.  Rather, the applicant should submit the interim relief application to the relevant arbitration institutions in Hong Kong, which would forward the application to the competent Intermediary People’s Court in Mainland China.

It is possible to apply for pre-arbitration interim measures in Mainland China via the Arrangement in the same procedure described above, although the People’s Court must receive proof of the institution’s acceptance of the arbitration within 30 days after the Court grants the interim measures.

 

General requirements

At the risk of stating the obvious, although parties first submit the interim relief application to an approved Hong Kong arbitration institution, the law of the application is Chinese law.  After the Court has accepted the application, the interim relief hearings must be conducted by Mainland-qualified lawyers.

The application shall include:

  • the application for interim measure;
  • the arbitration agreement;
  • identity/incorporation documents for natural persons and legal entities, respectively;
  • the request for arbitration, with exhibited evidence, and proof that the institution has accepted the case (for on-going arbitrations[1]); and
  • any other supporting materials required by the People’s Court.

There are some practical difficulties and uncertainties to bear in mind.  The Arrangement requires “documents of identity” issued outside the Mainland to be certified in accordance with PRC law.  This may require certification by a China-appointed attesting officer (in Hong Kong) or Chinese consulate/embassy notarisation and authentication procedures (overseas).  The Arrangement also requires “accurate Chinese translation” for all documents submitted to the People’s Court.  Parties must factor in the additional time and cost of meeting these requirements.  The catch-all requirement for “any other materials required by People’s Court” adds additional uncertainty to the process.

The Arrangement also provides a useful list of issues that must be covered in the application to a Mainland court (Article 5).  Applications must also refer to the PRC Civil Procedure Law and other laws or regulations, depending on the types of interim measures sought by the applicant.  Article 5 of the Arrangement lists the following:

  • basic information of the parties;
  • applied interim measures, including the applied amount of assets to be preserved and particulars of the conduct and the time period;
  • facts and justifications on which the application is based, together with the relevant evidence;
  • clear particulars of the property and evidence to be preserved or concrete threads which may lead to a chain of inquiry;
  • information about the property in the Mainland to be used as security or certification of financial standing; and
  • whether any application under this Arrangement has been made in any other court, relevant institution or permanent office, and the status of such application.

 

What are the approved Hong Kong arbitration institutions?

“Arbitral proceedings in Hong Kong” in the Arrangement refers to arbitrations seated in the Hong Kong SAR and be administered by institutions either headquartered, or with permanent offices, in the SAR. The list of such institutions or permanent offices will be provided by the Hong Kong SAR Government to the Supreme People’s Court, and will be subject to confirmation by both sides.

We anticipate that the list of approved arbitration institutions will include at least HKIAC, the CIETAC Hong Kong Center and ICC Hong Kong.  Ad hoc arbitrations seated in Hong Kong will not benefit from the Interim Measures Arrangement.

 

For further information on the Mainland China interim relief regime, please speak to May Tai, Kathryn Sanger, Helen Tang, Stella Hu or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contacts.

[1] It is not entirely clear here for pre-arbitration applications, whether the applicants need to submit draft request for arbitration; and whether following the commencement of arbitration, the applicants need to provide the request of arbitration, on top of the letter confirming the acceptance of the case.

May Tai
May Tai
Managing Partner - Greater China
+852 2101 4031
Kathryn Sanger
Kathryn Sanger
Partner, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4029
Stella Hu
Stella Hu
Senior Associate, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4248

BEIJING COURT REJECTS APPLICATION TO SET ASIDE TRIBUNAL’S INSTRUMENT RECORDING MEDIATED SETTLEMENT TERMS, CITING LACK OF LEGAL BASIS

In Li Lian Dong and Others v Shen Yi (2018) Jing 04 Min Te 541, a first instance decision made earlier this year, the Beijing 4th Intermediate People’s Court considered whether the court’s power to set aside an arbitral award extends to setting aside the parties’ settlement formally given effect to by the arbitral tribunal in an instrument known under the Arbitration Law of the People’s Republic of China as a “conciliation statement”.

The Court decided that there is no legal ground for Chinese courts to set aside a conciliation statement issued by an arbitral tribunal.  Article 58 of the Arbitration Law provides only for the setting aside of an arbitral award, not a conciliation statement, despite Article 51(2) of the Arbitration Law expressly providing that a conciliation statement has the same legal effect as an arbitral award.

Background

On 12 January 2017, Shen Yi entered into an agreement with Xin Lv Ju (Shanghai) Enterprise Development Limited (Company), Mr Li Lian Dong (the Company’s legal representative) and two other companies to invest in the Company in exchange for the Company’s right to the proceeds from the operation of a certain project (First Transfer Agreement).  On the same day, other parties entered into similar investment agreements with the Company, Mr Li and the other companies.  In 2018, Shen Yi acquired the interests of all these other investors in the project under a second transfer agreement (Second Transfer Agreement).

Subsequently, a dispute arose in relation to the investment.  In April 2018 Shen Yi commenced an arbitration before the Beijing Arbitration Commission pursuant to the arbitration clause in the First Transfer Agreement, naming the Company and Mr Li as the respondents. An arbitral tribunal was constituted.  At the arbitral hearing, the parties agreed to mediation and reached a settlement. At the request of the parties, the arbitral tribunal issued a conciliation statement (No.0216) to confirm the terms of the mediated settlement reached and concluded the arbitration.

Later in 2018, the Company and Mr Li applied to the Court to set aside the conciliation statement, on the basis that (i) Shen Yi failed to produce in the arbitration the Second Transfer Agreement and thus had concealed evidence sufficient to affect the impartiality of the arbitration, and (ii) the arbitration was not in conformity with procedural requirements, both of which are grounds for setting aside an arbitral award under Article 58 of the Arbitration Law. They argued that (pursuant to Article 51(2) of the Arbitration Law) a conciliation statement issued by the arbitral tribunal has the same legal effect as an arbitral award, and can therefore be set aside by the courts on the same grounds as an arbitral award.

Decision

The Court rejected the application to set aside the conciliation statement. In particular, it found that the conciliation statement was not an arbitral award, and the Arbitration Law only provides for setting aside of the latter.

The Court went on to find that there was no factual basis to support the set aside application. In rejecting the applicants’ factual case, it referred to the formal transcript of the arbitration hearing, which it found to clearly record that Shen Yi had produced the Second Transfer Agreement in evidence during the hearing, and the authenticity of the same was not disputed by the applicants at the hearing.  The applicants therefore did not make out their case that Shen Yi had concealed evidence, nor was there procedural irregularity in the arbitration.

Discussion

In, effectively, rejecting Article 58 of the Arbitration Law as empowering the court to set aside a settlement given effect to by the arbitral tribunal through a “conciliation statement”, the Court in this case appears to have preferred similar approaches taken by a number of local Intermediate People’s Courts in the recent years, over the approach taken by the Supreme People’s Court’s (SPC) in at least one case (see SPC’s reply to the Guangdong Province Higher People’s Court in [2010] Min Si Ta Zi No. 45), which is that the grounds in Article 58 of the Arbitration Law can be referred to in dealing with an application to set aside a conciliation statement, but that the review should be limited to the procedure of the rendering of the particular conciliation statement in question and not the substance of the conciliation statement.  Whilst the Court’s decision is one of the latest on this issue, it remains to be seen whether more judicial clarity will be given by the SPC in a formal interpretation document, which may put the sometimes inconsistent approaches taken by local courts to rest.

Michelle Li
Michelle Li
Partner, Shanghai
+86 21 2322 2162
Helen Tang
Helen Tang
Partner, Shanghai
+86 21 2322 2160
Briana Young
Briana Young
Foreign Legal Consultant (England & Wales)/Professional Support Consultant, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4214

HONG KONG COURT GRANTS ANTI-SUIT INJUNCTION TO BIND THIRD PARTY TO ARBITRATION AGREEMENT

In Dickson Valora Group (Holdings) Co Ltd v Fan Ji Qian [2019] HKCFI 482, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance has granted an anti-suit injunction restraining mainland Chinese court proceedings commenced by Fan Ji Qian on the ground that the dispute should be referred to arbitration. Although Fan was not a signatory to the contract containing the arbitration clause, he had nevertheless sought to enforce a contractual right under that agreement, such that he was also bound by any conditions integral to the exercise of this right (including the agreement to arbitrate).

This decision shows that an arbitration agreement can, in certain circumstances, bind third parties. This is something which should be considered when drafting agreements which purport to confer a benefit on non-signatories, particularly if it is intended that third parties exercising rights under the contract should also be bound by the arbitration provisions.

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CIETAC releases 2018 statistics

On 1 February 2019, CIETAC published its 2018 statistics and 2019 work plan. The statistics show a substantial increase in CIETAC’s caseload and the total amounts in dispute, as well as a growing diversity of cases administered by CIETAC.

CIETAC received 2,962 new cases during 2018, representing a 28.89% increase compared to the previous year. 522 of these cases are foreign-related, of which 36 are between non-Chinese parties: 9.66% more than 2017. CIETAC accepted 2,440 new domestic cases in 2018, an increase of 33.92% on the previous year.

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HONG KONG COURT DISMISSES APPLICATION FOR FURTHER STAY OF ENFORCEMENT

After reluctantly issuing an initial stay of enforcement in July 2018, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance recently dismissed an application by China Zenith Chemical Group Ltd (CZ) to further delay the enforcement of an arbitral award in favour of Baosteel Engineering & Technology Group Co Ltd (BS).

Baosteel Engineering & Technology Group Co Ltd v China Zenith Chemical Group Ltd [2019] HKFCI 68

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Hong Kong Court of Appeal ends 12-year Xiamen v Eton Properties saga

As discussed in this post, Xiamen Xingjingdi Group Co Ltd (XJ) and various co-defendants affiliated with Eton Properties Ltd (together, EP) have been involved in a long-running dispute in multiple fora, including a PRC-seated CIETAC arbitration and several Hong Kong court proceedings. The case appears now to have come to an end, with the Court of Appeal (Court) confirming its position on common law actions to enforce arbitral awards and rejecting both parties’ applications for leave to appeal the Court’s 15 April 2016 judgment.

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Indian Supreme Court rules that Indian courts have jurisdiction to hear an application to set aside an award issued in Malaysia

In its recent decision in Union of India v Hardy Exploration and Production (available here), the Supreme Court of India found that a contractual clause stipulating Kuala Lumpur as the ‘venue’ of arbitration did not amount to a choice of juridical seat. While the Indian courts’ jurisdiction to hear set-aside applications will be excluded if the seat of the arbitration is outside India, the Supreme Court found that in this case there was no chosen seat (and the tribunal had not determined a seat), notwithstanding the choice of Kuala Lumpur as the venue for the arbitral proceedings, and the fact that the award was signed in Kuala Lumpur. Since this was a case where the arbitration agreement pre-dated 6 September 2012 (the date of the key Supreme Court ruling in BALCO), it appears that the Court did not find it necessary to positively determine that the seat was in India; the fact that an overseas seat had not been established appears to have been sufficient for the Indian courts to have jurisdiction to hear the application.

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English Court refuses to grant an injunction against the enforcement of a s1782 US Evidence Order

In a decision dated 24 August 2018, the English Commercial Court (the “Court“) dismissed Dreymoor Fertilisers Overseas PTE Ltd’s (“Dreymoor“) application to continue an injunction preventing the enforcement of an order of a U.S. court granting discovery under section 1782 of the United States Code (the “Order“). The Order required one of Dreymoor’s employees to be deposed and produce evidence for use in various international proceedings by Eurochem Trading GMBH (“ECTG“) against Dreymoor. Dreymoor argued that enforcing the Order would constitute unconscionable conduct as it would interfere with its preparation for arbitration proceedings against ECTG.

The Court accepted that the enforcement of orders such as the Order could potentially be unfair, as they would effectively provide an opportunity to cross-examine the same witness twice. However, whether to injunct the enforcement of such an order required a careful case-by-case analysis. Based on various case-specific factors, the Court decided that it would not be unconscionable to allow ECTG to enforce the Order and dismissed Dreymoor’s application to continue the injunction.

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NEW JAPAN INTERNATIONAL DISPUTE RESOLUTION CENTER OPEN FOR BUSINESS IN OSAKA

The newly established Japan International Dispute Resolution Center (JIDRC) opened its first hearing venue on 1 May 2018. Located within Japan’s second largest metropolitan area, the JIDRC-Osaka is the product of cooperation between the public and private sectors and is reported to be the first facility in Japan to provide specialised international arbitration hearing services. It represents a welcome addition to the international dispute resolution landscape in Japan.

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Overcoming reluctance to arbitrate in the TMT sector

Drawing on two surveys on the use of arbitration in technology, media and telecoms disputes, Susan Field, a senior associate and solicitor advocate at Herbert Smith Freehills in London, considers whether parties in the TMT sector are moving away from their traditional reluctance to use international arbitration.

The technology media and telecoms (TMT) sector has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. With rapid, sometimes cross-border, development and the increasing spend and dependency on technology, comes the unavoidable pain of disputes as deals go wrong, partnerships turn sour, or things do not go to plan. There are already a large number of TMT-related disputes globally, many involving significant sums. According to a survey of the TMT sector conducted by Queen Mary University of London in 2016 (International Dispute Resolution Survey – Pre-empting and Resolving Technology, Media and Telecoms Disputes), 23% of participants had experienced more than 20 TMT disputes over the past five years. More than a third said that they had been involved in at least one dispute valued in excess of US$100 million. The QMU survey also identified the types of TMT disputes most commonly encountered: these included IP, licensing, regulatory, supply chain and consumer disputes, though there was of course variation in the type of disputes encountered in the individual technology, media and telecoms industries.

More recently, in 2017, the Silicon Valley Arbitration and Mediation Centre (SVMAC) conducted its own survey identifying among other things the top perceived benefits of arbitration among technology companies.

While the surveys suggest there is a growing market for dispute resolution in the TMT sector, there remains a perception that parties are reluctant to use it. This article looks at whether there is any basis for this and how the arbitration community should respond.

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