New York district court rejects application for use of confidential documents in LCIA arbitration

Beny Steinmetz Group Resources ("BSGR"), a company based in Guernsey and accused of bribery in Guinea, has been denied permission by a Magistrate Judge of the Southern District Court of New York ("SDNY") to use certain confidential documents. These documents were produced in a lawsuit before the SDNY filed by Rio Tinto, and were sought to be used by BSGR in a separate but related LCIA arbitration.

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English High Court orders disclosure of arbitration documents by agent to principal

In its recent judgment AMEC Foster Wheeler Group Limited v Morgan Sindall Professional Services Limited & Ors [2015] EWHC 2012 (TCC) (available here), the English High Court (the Court) ordered that arbitration documents be disclosed by a party conducting arbitration to a party with a financial interest and practical involvement in the dispute.

The arbitration arose in relation to construction works at a naval base. The Secretary of State for Defence (SSD) had engaged a contractor (TES) to carry out works. Part of those works was subcontracted by TES to the claimant (AMEC). AMEC then sold its business to the defendants, who were assigned AMEC’s rights and agreed to carry out AMEC’s obligations under the relevant subcontract.

Disputes under the main contract and the subcontract arose, and arbitral proceedings between SSD and TES commenced. Under a name borrowing agreement between TES and AMEC (i.e. an agreement under which a party agrees to pursue or defend a legal claim in the name of another), AMEC, agreed to conduct the arbitration between TES and SSD on behalf of TES. AMEC and the defendants then agreed that the defendants would conduct the arbitration as AMEC’s agents.

The defendants conducted the arbitration without any involvement from AMEC. When AMEC sought copies of the arbitration documents, the defendants refused to provide them. The claimant brought proceedings before the Court for orders that the documents be disclosed.

The Court ordered that the documents be disclosed on the basis that they were held by the defendants as agent for AMEC. In reaching this decision, the Court rejected the defendants’ argument that disclosure should be refused on the basis that the arbitration documents were confidential.

The Court’s decision focussed largely on the relationship between the parties and little attention was given to the issue of confidentiality in arbitration proceedings. This in itself makes the decision noteworthy: the Court made clear that the legal obligation to provide the documents to AMEC (by virtue of the relationship between principal and agent) effectively ‘trumped’ any question of a duty of confidentiality owed to a third party (in this case, the SSD), in arbitration proceedings. Whilst the circumstances of this case were unusual, the decision may have broader application where there is an arbitration between an agent (whether disclosed or undisclosed) and a third party.

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