PRC court clarifies enforcement of Mainland award made by foreign institution

On 6 August 2020, Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court made a civil ruling that an arbitral award made in Guangzhou by the ICC should be regarded as a Chinese arbitral award with a foreign element. It follows that the award should be enforced under Article 273 of the PRC Civil Procedure Law, rather than under the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.

(2015) Sui Zhong Min Chu Si Zi No. 62 or (2015)穗中法民四初字第62号

Background

This case concerned a supply contract between Brentwood Industries (US) as the seller, Guangzhou Faanlong Machinery Engineering Co Ltd (PRC) as the buyer, and Guangzhou Zhengqi Trading Co Ltd (PRC) as the agent of the buyer. Article 16 of the contract provided that “any dispute arising from or in connection with this contract shall be settled through friendly negotiation. If no settlement can be reached through negotiation, it shall be submitted to ICC for arbitration in the place where the project is located in accordance with international convention and practice” (emphasis added). Article 17 provided that “the applicable law of this contract is PRC law”. In this case, the project was located in Guangzhou, Mainland China.

On 16 December 2010, Brentwood brought a claim against Faanlong and others (Respondents) in the Court. The Court declined to hear the case, as there was an arbitration agreement between the parties. On 9 May 2011, Brentwood applied to the Court to invalidate the arbitration clause. Brentwood was not successful. Subsequent to the Court’s ruling confirming the validity of the arbitration clause, on 31 August 2012, Brentwood commenced ICC arbitration against the Respondents. The arbitration was administered by the ICC through its Secretariat Asia Office based in Hong Kong. On 17 March 2014, the sole arbitrator made a final award in favour of Brentwood. On 13 April 2015, Brentwood applied to the Court for recognition and enforcement of the award.

The Court’s ruling on enforcement

Brentwood argued that judicial practice in Mainland China is that the nationality of the arbitral award is determined by the place where the arbitration institution is located. Accordingly, as the award was made by the ICC, which is headquartered in Paris, it should be recognised and enforced in Mainland China in accordance with the New York Convention. Alternatively, if the Court considered that the award was made by the ICC Secretariat Asia Office based in Hong Kong, the award is a Hong Kong arbitral award and should be recognised and enforced in accordance with the Arrangement Concerning Mutual Enforcement of Arbitral Awards Between the Mainland and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (Mainland and Hong Kong Mutual Arrangement).

The Respondents argued that (1) the award was not “made in the territory of a State other than the State where the recognition and enforcement of such awards are sought “ (Article 1 of the New York Convention), and thus should not be recognised and enforced under the New York Convention; (2) ICC was not an arbitration institution stipulated in the PRC Arbitration Law and it was not legal for it to administer arbitration in Mainland China; and (3) the validity of the arbitration clause and the enforceability of the arbitral award were two separate legal issues under different rules. The fact that the arbitration clause was held valid did not necessarily suggest that the award made pursuant to it was enforceable.

The Court ruled that the award, made in Guangzhou by the ICC, should be regarded as a foreign-related arbitral award made in Mainland China. Enforcement of the award should be brought under Article 273 of the PRC Civil Procedure Law. It rejected Brentwood’s arguments for recognition and enforcement under the New York Convention or the Mainland and Hong Kong Mutual Arrangement and directed Brentwood to re-apply for enforcement under the PRC Civil Procedure Law.

Comment

It is a long-standing question whether foreign arbitration institutions can administer arbitration seated in Mainland China under the current PRC Arbitration Law regime. The traditional view was no, because “arbitration commission” in the PRC Arbitration Law meant Chinese arbitration institutions only. However, with the increase in commercial dealings between Chinese and foreign parties, the strict interpretation of the law no longer sits well with the demands of commercial parties. China’s Supreme People’s Court has recently, in several cases and judicial interpretations, confirmed the validity of clauses providing for arbitrations administered by foreign institutions seated in Mainland China. This latest decision made by the Guangzhou Court took a further step,  supporting that the arbitral award made in arbitration seated in Mainland China and administered by a foreign arbitration institution can be enforced under PRC Civil Procedure Law. However, as Mainland China is not a case law jurisdiction, this latest decision by Guangzhou Court, even though it should have been vetted by the Supreme People’s Court via the internal reporting system, is not a binding authority in Mainland China.

Viewed in light of the fact that foreign arbitral institutions are now permitted to operate in Beijing and extended free trade zones in Shanghai (see here), we are hopeful that there will be a final clarification in the near future on the question of whether foreign arbitral institutions can administer arbitration seated in Mainland China. Legal practitioners in Mainland China have been calling for an amendment to the existing PRC Arbitration Law to address this issue. If that happens, it would be a significant step towards China further opening up its legal services market to foreign players. Having said that, before that final missing piece of the puzzle is complete, we would recommend that parties avoid agreeing to an arbitration clause that provides for arbitration seated in Mainland China to be administered by a foreign arbitral institution.

If you have questions or would like discuss any aspect of this post, please contact Helen Tang, Stella Hu or Briana Young of Herbert Smith Freehills, Weina Ye of Kewei Law Firm, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Helen Tang
Helen Tang
Partner, Shanghai
+86 21 2322 2160
Weina Ye
Weina Ye
International Partner, Kewei
+86 21 2322 2132
Stella Hu
Stella Hu
Of Counsel, Beijing
+86 10 65355017
Briana Young
Briana Young
Professional Support Consultant, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4214

 

 

Beijing to open to foreign arbitral institutions

On 7 September 2020, the State Council of China published a policy paper on opening up the services sector in Beijing (“Work Plan for Deepening Comprehensive Pilot and New Round of Opening-Up of Services Sectors in Beijing and Building Comprehensive Demonstrative Area of Opening-up of State Services Sectors” or《深化北京市新一轮服务业扩大开放综合试点建设国家服务业扩大开放综合示范区工作方案》). The paper announces  that foreign arbitral institutions will be allowed to set up “business organisations in designated area(s) in Beijing”, to “provide arbitration services in relation to civil and commercial disputes arising in the areas of international commerce and investments” and to “support and secure the application and enforcement of interim measures … before and during the arbitration proceedings, such as asset preservation, evidence preservation and action preservation” (emphasis added).

For these purposes, a “foreign arbitral institution” is one that is established outside Mainland China, including in Hong Kong, Macao or Taiwan.

The paper does not explain  the exact scope of activities that business organisations will be entitled to carry out in Beijing.  They might be permitted, for example, to organise arbitration hearings in venues in Beijing, or even to provide case administration services from Beijing.  This is one step further from an earlier policy under a 2017 State Council policy paper (“Reply of the State Council in relation to Deepening Reform and Further Opening-up of Services Sectors in Beijing as Comprehensive Pilot” or 《国务院关于深化改革推进北京市服务业扩大开放综合试点工作方案的批复》), which allowed foreign arbitral institutions to “establish representative offices in Beijing” (emphasis added). No foreign arbitral institution has set up offices in Beijing following the 2017 policy.

The State Council of China previously released similar policies in Shanghai’s free trade zone. In 2015, a State Council policy paper allowed foreign arbitral institutions to open representative offices in Shanghai’s free trade zone.  Subsequently, HKIAC, SIAC and ICC have opened representative offices in Shanghai. These offices, however, have been limited to liaison activities and have not been permitted to provide case administration services in Mainland China.

In August 2019, a further State Council policy paper stated that foreign arbitral institutions may be permitted to set up business organisations in Shanghai’s extended free trade zone to “conduct arbitration businesses in relation to civil and commercial disputes arising in the areas of international commerce, maritime affairs, investment, etc.” (emphasis added) (see here). It has been reported that several foreign arbitral institutions are in the process of setting up branches in the extended free trade zone under the August 2019 policy paper, although it remains to be seen which types of “arbitration businesses” those branches will be permitted to conduct.

It is worth noting that both the August 2019 Shanghai policy paper and the September 2020 Beijing policy paper mention that foreign arbitral institutions’ branches will be allowed “to support the application and enforcement of interim measures” in Mainland China. Under current Chinese law, parties to arbitration cases must apply to Chinese courts for interim measures; Mainland China-seated arbitral tribunals are not allowed to grant interim relief. However, Chinese courts generally do not accept interim relief applications from parties to arbitrations administered by foreign arbitral institutions (except for cases administered by designated Hong Kong arbitration institutions and seated in Hong Kong, see here), as there is currently no legal ground supporting this. The two policy papers appear to have allowed this possibility, but it remains unclear whether this is the correct interpretation and, if so, how it will be implemented in practice.

The latest Beijing policy paper, following the path of previous policy papers, signals further liberalisation and opening up of commercial arbitration practice in Mainland China. However, under the current Chinese Arbitration Law, foreign arbitral institutions are still not expressly permitted to administer arbitration cases seated in Mainland China.

For this reason, we continue to recommend against providing for arbitration of foreign-related disputes seated in Mainland China administered by an foreign arbitral institution (see here).

If you have questions or would like discuss any aspect of this post, please contact Helen Tang or Briana Young of Herbert Smith Freehills, Weina Ye of Kewei Law Firm, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Helen Tang
Helen Tang
Partner, Shanghai
+86 21 2322 2160
Weina Ye
Weina Ye
International Partner, Kewei
+86 21 2322 2132
Briana Young
Briana Young
Professional Support Consultant, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4214

HERBERT SMITH FREEHILLS UPDATES ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO DISPUTES CLAUSES IN CHINA CONTRACTS

Herbert Smith Freehills has launched the 8th edition of its guide, “Dispute resolution and governing law clauses for China-related commercial contracts‎”.

Better known as “The Dragon Book“, this practical guide explains how Mainland Chinese law affects parties’ choice of law and dispute resolution in China-related contracts.‎

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GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES PILOT SCHEME ON FACILITATION FOR PERSONS PARTICIPATING IN ARBITRAL PROCEEDINGS IN HONG KONG

On 29 June 2020, the Hong Kong Government launched a Pilot Scheme on Facilitation for Persons Participating in Arbitral Proceedings in Hong Kong. Under this Scheme, arbitrators, expert and factual witnesses, counsel, and parties to the arbitration (Eligible Persons) can participate in arbitral proceedings in Hong Kong as visitors without needing an employment visa, as was previously required. This is a welcome development, which will facilitate the participation in Hong Kong arbitrations of the many foreign nationals who travel regularly to the city for hearings and other arbitration-related activities.

The Scheme is subject to the following conditions:

  • the Eligible Person holds a nationality that permits him/her to visit Hong Kong without a visa;
  • the duration of the stay does not exceed the current visa-free period;
  • a “Letter of Proof” is obtained from the relevant arbitral institution, confirming that he or she is eligible under the Scheme. (In ad hoc arbitrations, the Letter of Proof must be issued by a reputable venue with established and well-equipped hearing facilities for ad hoc arbitrations; namely, HKIAC or the Department of Justice).

The Department of Justice has authorised the following institutions to issue Letters of Proof: HKIAC, CIETAC Hong Kong Arbitration Center, ICC Asia Office, HKMA, SCIA (HK) and eBRAM. The Department has also issued a Guidance Note on the pilot scheme to the authorised institutions.

The Scheme will be reviewed in two years’ time. Subject to the review, it may be extended to Eligible Persons from other jurisdictions, including Mainland China.

However, in view of Hong Kong’s current COVID-19 measures and travel restrictions, persons covered by the Scheme remain subject to entry restrictions. We expect the Scheme to come into full effect once the relevant restrictions have been lifted.

For more information, please contact May Tai, Partner, Simon Chapman, Partner, Kathryn Sanger, Partner, Briana Young, Professional Support Consultant, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

May Tai
May Tai
Partner
+852 21014031

Simon Chapman
Simon Chapman
Partner
+852 21014217

Kathryn Sanger
Kathryn Sanger
Partner
+852 21014029

Briana Young
Briana Young
Senior Associate
+852 21014214

HKIAC announces new Co-Chairs, Vice Chairs; Herbert Smith Freehills’ Briana Young named Vice Chair

HKIAC has appointed David Rivkin and Rimsky Yuen as its new Co-Chairs, to succeed Matthew Gearing QC. HKIAC Council members Briana Young of Herbert Smith Freehills and Nils Eliasson of Shearman & Stearling have been promoted to Vice Chair, alongside Joseph Wan.

David W. Rivkin, Co-Chair of Debevoise & Plimpton’s International Dispute Resolution Group and Past President of the International Bar Association (IBA), and Rimsky Yuen GBM, SC, JP, arbitrator, mediator and barrister and former Hong Kong Secretary for Justice, are appointed Co-Chairs of HKIAC with effect from 15 June 2020.

Rivkin and Yuen succeed Matthew Gearing QC, whose three-year term as HKIAC Chair concludes on 14 June 2020.

Two members of HKIAC’s Council, Nils Eliasson, Partner at Shearman & Sterling, and Briana Young, Foreign Legal Consultant at Herbert Smith Freehills, are elevated to Vice Chair.

HKIAC’s press release is available here.

HONG KONG COURT MAKES HADKINSON ORDER AND IMPOSES SECURITY AGAINST CHINESE BILLIONAIRE

The Hong Kong Court of First Instance has granted a so-called “Hadkinson order”, adjourning an application to resist enforcement of CIETAC arbitral awards, on the basis of the applicant’s poor conduct in earlier stages of the proceedings. The court also ordered the parties resisting enforcement to pay 40% of the award amounts as security. The application is the latest in a series of interim relief and enforcement proceedings in support of a Beijing seated CIETAC arbitration against Zhang Lan, billionaire and founder of the South Beauty restaurant group. Madam Zhang was earlier held in contempt of court for breaching a Hong Kong court injunction and asset disclosure order.

La Dolce Vita Fine Dining Group Holdings Ltd v Zhang Lan [2020] HKCFI 622

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Hong Kong court: remission for reconsideration – not an automatic cure for substantial injustice

In P v. M [2019] HKCFI 1864; HCCT 6/2019 (24 July 2019), the Hong Kong Court of First Instance set aside parts of two arbitral awards which were found to be in breach of procedural fairness resulting in substantial injustice.

Background

This is the second of two set aside applications arising from the same underlying arbitration based on a construction contract (Contract) which provided for domestic arbitration in Hong Kong. M had claimed against P for monies to which it was entitled under the Contract. After a first hearing in November 2017, the tribunal issued an interim award against P, ordering it to pay damages for loss and expense (First Award).

Challenge to the First Award

P raised a challenge to the parts of the First Award relating to a sum in respect of site overheads and insurance costs (Disputed Sum).

  • P argued that M’s case on the Disputed Sum was that it was not required to give notice of the claim for the Disputed Sum, or that even if such notice were required, P had waived this requirement or was estopped from asserting M’s failure to do so.
  • While the tribunal had rejected M’s pleaded claims, it nevertheless awarded M the Disputed Sum by finding that certain letters from M to P constituted notice as required by the Contract. P argued that in doing so, the tribunal had exceeded its powers, or had failed to conduct the arbitral proceedings in accordance with the procedure agreed by the parties.
  • P thus sought to impugn certain paragraphs of the First Award pertaining to the Disputed Sum (Challenged Paragraphs), or alternatively, to set aside the First Award on the ground that P had been denied a reasonable opportunity to present its case in the arbitration.

P’s application was heard and granted by Mimmie Chan J.

  • Chan J found that P had been “deprived of the fair opportunity to present its case and to make submissions to the tribunal on the effect and adequacy of the [letters] as proper notices under the Contract”, given that P had not been informed of this argument during the arbitration proceedings.
  • While noting the need for finality of awards, and that only extreme cases would justify the court’s intervention, Chan J found that this was a case where a serious error had affected due process and the structural integrity of the arbitral proceedings, with the result that P had suffered substantial injustice.
  • Since the complaint was that P had been deprived of a fair opportunity to make relevant submissions to the tribunal, Chan J remitted the matter to the tribunal for reconsideration. In addition, she declared that the Challenged Paragraphs would have no effect pending the reconsideration, and ordered the parties to file further submissions to the tribunal on specific issues, including the meaning and effect of the letters and whether they constituted valid notification of claims as required under the Contract.

Challenge to the Second Award

Following Chan J’s decision, the parties filed further submissions and the tribunal issued a second interim award (Second Award), which reinstated the Challenged Paragraphs in the First Award. P then raised a challenge to the Second Award on the same grounds as its first challenge.

  • P again argued that the tribunal had exceeded its powers and/or failed to conduct the proceedings in accordance with the procedure agreed by the parties or as directed by Chan J by, among others:
    • summarily rejecting P’s submissions on “threshold issues” that injustice arising from matters not raised in the substantive arbitration could not be rectified by further submissions on remission in the absence of a further evidentiary hearing;
    • taking into account submissions made by M which were not “in reply” to P’s submissions on remission and had not been pleaded or dealt with in evidence in the arbitration;
    • directing further submissions on matters which could not properly and fairly be addressed by a further evidentiary hearing;
    • embarking on its own enquiry and making findings that were not contended by M.
  • P submitted that it was denied an opportunity to address such matters, of which P had had no prior notice.
  • P further submitted that there was no benefit in remitting such matters to the tribunal again.

Decision on the Second Award

Coleman J first canvassed the principles applicable to the challenge, which he regarded as “reasonably well-settled”:

  • it is for the applicant to establish both serious irregularity and substantial injustice. The test of a serious irregularity giving rise to substantial injustice requires a high threshold to be met, so as drastically to reduce the extent of intervention by the Court in the arbitral process;
  • the Court is concerned with the structural integrity of the arbitration proceedings, and not with the substantive merits of the dispute;
  • a balance has to be drawn between the need for finality of the award and the need to protect parties against unfair conduct in the arbitration. Therefore, only an extreme case will justify the Court’s intervention;
  • the effect of setting aside an award or declaring an award, or part thereof, to be of no effect is that the award, or the relevant part, is a nullity. The arbitration can revive or carry on as necessary to deal with the matters that were set aside or declared to be of no effect;
  • following a remission, the tribunal’s revived authority extends only to the matters that are so remitted; it cannot go beyond the scope of the revived jurisdiction.

On the evidence, Coleman J agreed with P that there had been a serious irregularity leading to substantial injustice.

  • Coleman J opined that “once it [was] identified and directed that parties are bound by their pleaded cases, and by the evidence already traversed at the arbitration hearing, and by the findings of fact made on that evidence, then there was really only one proper conclusion which the [tribunal] could have reached” – that the claim must fail.
  • If M had wished to advance a case on the suggestion of the tribunal that the letters constituted the required notice, then “it could only properly have done so by making an application to amend its pleadings, which if allowed would almost certainly have required re-opening the evidentiary hearing.”
  • While the tribunal was mindful of Chan J’s decision, and sought to provide proper opportunity for P to present its case by giving P the “final right of reply”, the defects “have not been cured, and could not have been cured, by the route taken by the Arbitrator”.
  • The Court had in fact already considered that intervention in this arbitration is justified and necessary. Despite the remission for reconsideration, the serious irregularity warranting intervention has not been cured.

Coleman J thus proceeded to set aside the paragraphs in the First Award that had been impugned by Chan J, as well as the relevant paragraphs of the Second Award that exceeded M’s pleaded case.

Conclusion

While Hong Kong courts are slow to set aside arbitral awards, they will do so where they consider that the high threshold of serious irregularity resulting in substantial injustice has been met. To avoid challenges based on serious procedural irregularities, arbitrators must resist any temptation to look beyond the case as set out in the parties’ pleadings.

 

May Tai
May Tai
Managing Partner, Greater China
+852 2101 4031
Simon Chapman
Simon Chapman
Partner, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4217
Kathryn Sanger
Kathryn Sanger
Partner, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4029
Briana Young
Briana Young
Foreign Legal Consultant (England & Wales) / Professional Support Consultant
+852 2101 4214

SPC ISSUES PROVISIONS ON ACTION PRESERVATION IN IP RIGHTS DISPUTES

The Supreme People’s Court of China (SPC) has released a new set of judicial interpretations concerning interim injunction applications for intellectual property rights (IP Rights)-related disputes. The Provisions on Application of Laws in Adjudication of Action Preservation Cases Involving Intellectual Property Disputes (Fa Shi [2018] No. 21) (Provisions) were published on 12 December 2018 and take effect on 1 January 2019. Prior to that, a consultation draft of the Provisions was released for public consultation on 26 February 2015.

The Provisions provide further guidance on interim injunctive relief (i.e. action preservation) applications made under Articles 100 and 101 of the Civil Procedure Law 2017 (2017 CPL) in cases concerning IP Rights and unfair competition, and clarify certain key concepts therein. (For more information on interim relief in the PRC, contact briana.young@hsf.com to request a copy of our guide “Interim Relief in Mainland China”.)

Some important articles in the Provisions, which are covered in this post, are:

  • Article 6, which provides for circumstances classified as “urgent circumstances” under Articles 100 and 101 of the 2017 CPL;
  • Article 7, which lists the factors that the courts shall take into consideration in determining whether an action preservation order should be granted;
  • Article 10, which elaborates on the concept of “irreparable harm” under Article 101 of the 2017 CPL in cases related to IP Rights or unfair competition. Risk of “irreparable harm” is an element that needs to be proved in any application for pre-litigation or pre-arbitration action preservation orders; and
  • Article 16, which specifies circumstances under which applications for action preservation will be considered “wrongful”.

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Hong Kong’s funding code published

As noted in our earlier post, Hong Kong published its long-awaited Code of Practice for Third Party Funding of Arbitration on 7 December 2018.

Publication of the Code has removed the final hurdle to third party funding of Hong Kong arbitrations. The law that allows such funding will come into effect on 1 February 2019, via sections 98K – 98O of the Arbitration Ordinance (Cap. 609). These sections abolish the criminal and tortious offences of champerty and maintenance in relation to third party funding of arbitration, as well as arbitration-related court and mediation proceedings. For more detail on the law, click here.

The Code was published by Hong Kong’s Secretary for Justice, Teresa Cheng SC, in her capacity as the “authorized body” under Part 10A Arbitration Ordinance. Compliance with the Code will be overseen by an “advisory body”, consisting of three senior Hong Kong lawyers, whose powers derive from s.98X Arbitration Ordinance.

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ENGLISH COURT OF APPEAL CONSIDERS DISCLOSURE OF ARBITRAL APPOINTMENTS IN RELATED OR OVERLAPPING REFERENCES

In Halliburton Company v Chubb Bermuda Insurance Ltd [2018] EWCA Civ 817, the English Court of Appeal was asked to consider:

  1. whether it is possible for an arbitrator to accept multiple appointments with overlapping reference and one common party, without giving rise to doubts over impartiality?
  2. at what point should an arbitrator disclose these further appointments – if at all?

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, stating that, on the facts of the case, there was no real possibility that the arbitrator was biased when viewed from the perspective of a “fair minded and informed observer”.  Nevertheless, the Court held that, in accordance with English law and best practice in international arbitration, disclosure should have been made. Continue reading