Astro v Lippo: the next chapter – Singapore Court of Appeal rejects enforcement of awards against non-signatories to the arbitration agreement

The long-running dispute between Astro, a Malaysian media giant, and Lippo, an Indonesian conglomerate, has reached the end of the latest heavily contested battle by Lippo against the enforcement of arbitral awards given in Astro’s favor.

In PT First Media TBK v Astro Nusantara International BV & others [2013] SGCA 57, the Singapore Court of Appeal has considered the ability of a losing party (Lippo) to oppose enforcement of an arbitral award on grounds of lack of jurisdiction where the losing party had not taken the previous steps available to it to challenge the award on jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal also considered the circumstances in which non-signatories to an arbitration agreement can be joined into existing arbitration proceedings.

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Singapore Court refuses to entertain a jurisdictional objection to the enforcement of domestic international arbitration awards

The recent case of Astro Nusantara International BV and others v PT Aunda Prima Mitra and others[2012] SGHC 212 is a further decision of the Singapore courts showing active support for arbitration (see our earlier blog piece here on PT Pukuafu Indah and others v Newmont Indonesia Ltd and another).

The case involved a challenge to the enforcement of arbitral awards on the grounds that the Tribunal lacked jurisdiction over a number of the parties to the arbitration. The Singapore High Court issued a lengthy and complex judgment, delving into the provisions of the UNCITRAL Model Law. The Court held that:

  • In relation to an domestic international arbitration award, an unsuccessful party cannot just remain passive and resist recognition and enforcement only when enforcement proceedings are brought. A pro-active application to set aside the award on a prescribed ground is needed within the correct timescale.
  • In relation to a ruling on jurisdiction heard as a preliminary issue, an unsuccessful party must subject the ruling to the court for review within the statutory time limit. If it does not do so and continues with the arbitration, it cannot then revive a jurisdictional objection on enforcement.

Also of interest was the court’s view that civil law jurisprudence on the Model Law would be of more relevance than English court decisions in terms of precedent value.

The decision is confined to the enforcement of domestic international arbitration awards in Singapore. However, it confirms the Singapore judiciary’s support of arbitration and party autonomy, reflecting efforts to curtail court intervention in favour of finality and certainty. Continue reading