HIGH COURT OF GUJARAT FINDS THAT TWO INDIAN PARTIES CAN CHOOSE A FOREIGN SEAT OF ARBITRATION BUT CANNOT OBTAIN INTERIM RELIEF IN INDIAN COURTS

The Gujarat High Court (the “Court”) recently handed down a significant decision in GE Power Conversion India Private Limited v. PASL Wind Solutions Private Limited, Arbitration Petition No. 131 and 134 of 2019, confirming that two Indian parties are permitted to choose a foreign seat of arbitration, and that the award from such an arbitration may then be enforced in India as a foreign award. However, the Court held that Indian parties who had chosen a non-Indian seat would not be entitled to interim relief from the Indian courts in support of the arbitration under s9 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 (the “Act”).

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ENGLISH SUPREME COURT TO DECIDE APPROACH TO DETERMINING GOVERNING LAW OF ARBITRATION AGREEMENT

On 27 and 28 July 2020, the Supreme Court heard an expedited appeal against a recent judgment of the Court of Appeal in Enka Insaat ve Sanayi AS v OOO Insurance Co Chubb [2020] EWCA Civ 574, which we discussed in one of our previous blog posts. The Supreme Court is asked to consider two issues: (i) the correct approach to determining the proper law of an arbitration agreement; and (ii) the role of the court of the seat of arbitration in determining whether foreign proceedings give rise to a breach of an agreement to arbitrate.

Background

In June 2020, the Supreme Court allowed OOO Insurance Co Chubb (“Chubb Russia”) to proceed with its appeal against the judgment in favour of Enka Insaat ve Sanayi AS (“Enka”). Chubb Russia was seeking to overturn the decision of the Court of Appeal, which precluded it from pursuing a subrogation claim in the Russian courts (the “Russian Court Claim”). The Court of Appeal had determined that the Russian Court Claim was brought in breach of the arbitration agreement (the “Arbitration Agreement”) in the main contract (the “Contract”).

The decision of the Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal concluded that: (i) the English court as the court of the seat was necessarily an appropriate court to grant an anti-suit injunction and questions of forum conveniens did not arise; and (ii) the Arbitration Agreement in the Contract was governed by English law. In particular, on issue (ii) the Court of Appeal held that there was nothing to suggest an express choice of Russian law as the governing law of the Contract and/or the Arbitration Agreement. Accordingly, in the absence of any countervailing factors which would point to a different system of law, the parties had impliedly chosen that the Arbitration Agreement was governed by the law of the seat, i.e. English law.

The Court of Appeal emphasised that if there is no express choice of law in an arbitration agreement itself, then it is necessary to review whether the express law of the main contract also applies to the arbitration agreement. However, the law of the contract would apply to the arbitration clause only in the minority of cases. In “all other cases, the general rule should be that the…[arbitration agreement]  law is the curial law, as a matter of implied choice”, unless there are powerful factors to counter this being the implied choice of law. If there is no implied choice of law, the law of the arbitration agreement will be the system of law with which the arbitration agreement has its closest and most real connection.

Russian court proceedings

As noted in our previous blog post, Chubb Russia filed the Russian Court Claim in May 2019. The decision of the first instance court dismissing the claim was published in full in May 2020. Although the Russian Court Claim was dismissed, the court also dismissed Enka’s motion seeking dismissal without considering the merits of the case in reliance on the Arbitration Agreement, noting that the dispute did not fall within the Arbitration Agreement. Both Enka and Chubb Russia appealed, and the Russian appellate court is due to hear the appeal at the end of October 2020.

Supreme Court hearing: brief overview of the parties’ positions

Overview of submissions made by Chubb Russia

Chubb Russia argued that the Arbitration Agreement formed an integral part of the Contract, and therefore, upon the application of the rules of contractual construction, the Arbitration Agreement should be governed by the same system of law as the Contract (i.e. Russian law, being the law impliedly chosen by the parties). Chubb Russia also argued that it would be just and convenient for the English court to stay the English proceedings to allow the Russian court to determine whether it had jurisdiction to hear the Russian Court Claim.

Overview of Enka’s submissions

Enka argued that the Arbitration Agreement was a separate contract, and the starting point should accordingly be the Arbitration Agreement itself (rather than the Contract, as suggested by Chubb). By agreeing to arbitration seated in London, the parties (i) impliedly agreed that the Arbitration Agreement was governed by English law; and (ii) therefore submitted to the jurisdiction of the English courts to grant an injunction to restrain a breach of the Arbitration Agreement and to determine whether there was such breach.

Comment

This case is likely to become the leading English law authority on the applicable principles relating to the approach to determining the proper law of an arbitration agreement. It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court agrees with the Court of Appeal in relation to the significance of the law of the seat for the purpose of determining the proper law of the arbitration agreement.

For more information, please contact Craig Tevendale, Partner, Rebecca Warder, Professional Support Lawyer, Olga Dementyeva, Associate or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Craig Tevendale
Craig Tevendale
Partner
+44 20 7466 2445

Rebecca Warder
Rebecca Warder
Professional Support Lawyer
+44 20 7466 3418

Olga Dementyeva
Olga Dementyeva
Associate
+44 20 7466 7644

Indian Supreme Court upholds English High Court’s decision on parties’ choice of London seat

The Indian Supreme Court’s judgment in Roger Shashoua v Mukesh Sharma sheds further light on the court’s approach to interpreting arbitration agreements, particularly regarding the parties’ implied choice of seat. The court found that the designation of London as the “venue” of the arbitration in the absence of any express designation of a seat would suggest that the parties agreed that London would be the seat of the arbitration (in the absence of anything to the contrary). It is also notable that the court expressly followed the English courts’ approach to the same question. Shashoua is particularly relevant to contracts with Indian parties providing for arbitration that were concluded prior to 6 September 2012, the date of the court’s judgment in Bharat Aluminium Co. v Kaiser Aluminium Technical Services Inc. (“BALCO“) (discussed here). As we consider in further detail below, this can have significant implications on the degree of Indian courts’ powers to interfere in arbitration proceedings, grant interim relief, appoint arbitrators or set aside an award, in connection with pre-BALCO agreements. Continue reading

Russian arbitration: are international sanctions impacting party choice?

Ever since the introduction and then expansion of international sanctions on Russia (in particular by the US and the EU), arbitration practitioners have questioned whether this will prompt a change in the party selection of international arbitration in Russia-related commercial agreements.  Specifically, whether historically popular arbitral venues outside Russia (London, Stockholm and others in Europe) will see a decline in favour of venues in Asia (e.g. Singapore, Hong Kong and others). Anecdotal evidence suggested that several Russian parties were indeed looking East (see our prior blog post here).  Now however a survey conducted by the Russian Arbitration Association (“RAA”) suggests that despite the introduction of sanctions, the arbitration landscape has remained relatively stable with fewer changes than might have been anticipated. 

The RAA Survey published earlier this year indicates that arbitration is still the preferred method of dispute resolution and that the historically prevalent venues of London and Stockholm remain for now the most preferred seats outside of Russia, with Geneva and Paris also remaining (slightly) preferred to Singapore and Hong Kong.  The ICC, SCC and LCIA remain heavily favoured as overseas arbitral institutions, while English law remains the most common choice of parties alongside Russian law. 

The survey nevertheless indicates that choices of Russian law and a Moscow seat of Arbitration are on the increase and that Asian arbitration seats (as well as Dubai and New York) are being considered and used by parties to Russia-related commercial contracts.

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