Tag: Hong Kong
In Champ Prestige International Limited v China City Construction (International) Co, Limited and Dingway Investment Limited, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance reaffirmed the court’s discretion to order the winding-up of a foreign-incorporated company on just and equitable grounds, but refused to stay the winding-up petition in favour of arbitration.
The Petitioner, Champ Prestige, entered into a joint venture with China City for the development of certain land in Florida, United States by Dingway Investment Limited, an investment company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (Company). The share sale and purchase agreement, under which Champ Prestige acquired a 45% interest in the Company from China City (SPA), contained an arbitration clause providing for disputes arising from or in connection with the SPA to be submitted to the HKIAC for arbitration.
The SPA also provided financing arrangements for the development of the project, including a put option that Champ Prestige could exercise in the event that China City did not fulfill its funding obligations. The parties subsequently entered into a cooperation agreement containing further terms for the development of the project. The cooperation agreement contained a similar arbitration clause to that of the SPA.
China City soon began to experience financial problems. Champ Prestige eventually exercised its put option, but China City did not pay the sums due on such exercise. The parties entered into a Framework Agreement in an attempt to resolve the financial issues. This Framework Agreement did not contain an arbitration clause.
Champ Prestige sought to wind up the Company on just and equitable grounds under section 327(3) of the Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap. 32), alleging that the Company was unable to progress its intended business purpose of developing land, and that China City had variously breached the SPA and the Framework Agreement. China City applied to strike out the winding-up petition (Petition) on grounds that there was insufficient connection between the Company, whose business and assets were located in the United States, and Hong Kong, for the court to exercise its exorbitant jurisdiction to wind up a foreign incorporated company, and alternatively that the dispute should be referred to arbitration.
The court’s decision
Court’s exorbitant jurisdiction
The court reiterated and affirmed the principles governing the circumstances in which the court may exercise its discretion to wind up a foreign-incorporated company, as set out by the Court of Final Appeal in Kam Leung Sui Kwan v Kam Kwan Lai & Ors (2015) 19 HKCFAR 501 (also known as the Yung Kee case, discussed in our previous blog post here). The key issue in the present case was whether the first of three core requirements had been satisfied, namely whether the management and ownership had sufficient connection with Hong Kong to justify the court exercising its exorbitant jurisdiction to wind up a foreign company.
The court held that this question should be considered in general and common sense terms, and that regardless of a company’s place of incorporation, it is not necessary to undertake a forensic analysis of the various components of a company’s operations and ownership if it is fairly clear that it is fairly viewed as a Hong Kong business entity.
On the facts, the court found that the ownership and management of the Company was more closely connected with Hong Kong than with either the United States or the British Virgin Islands, taking into account the following factors:
- the majority of the Company’s directors was resident in Hong Kong;
- the Company, while incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, was owned by a Hong Kong-listed company; and
- the project in Florida was dormant.
Stay for arbitration dismissed
On the issue of whether the Petition ought to be stayed in favour of arbitration, the court cited with approval its decision in Re Quiksilver Glorious Sun JV  4 HKLRD 759 (which was decided by the same judge, Harris J) that where an agreement to arbitrate has been made between shareholders, the correct approach to determining whether or not the complaints in a shareholder’s petition should be referred to arbitration is to identify and determine whether the substance of the dispute between the parties is covered by the arbitration agreement. The court further noted that, where the petitioner’s complaints form part of one continuing narrative, the court will not exercise its discretion to stay the petition unless it is clear and obvious that the dispute forming the subject of the arbitration clause would be “central and probably determinative of the factual issues” raised by the petition.
While some of Champ Prestige’s complaints related to matters arising under the SPA or the cooperation agreement, both of which contained arbitration clauses, such allegations were also relevant to the complaint that there had been a breakdown in trust and confidence between the parties. The present case was therefore not one in which part of the dispute could sensibly be hived off and referred to arbitration, with the outstanding issues to be determined once the arbitration was complete. On such grounds, the court dismissed the stay application.
This case is one of the first cases citing the Court of Final Appeal’s landmark decision in the Yung Kee case, and it is expected that the Hong Kong court will continue to exercise its discretion under its statutory jurisdiction to hear shareholders’ petitions to wind up foreign incorporated companies on just and equitable grounds.
It is increasingly common for commercial agreements, including share purchase agreements and shareholders’ agreements, to provide for dispute resolution by way of arbitration. When disputes do arise however, parties often look beyond the immediate contractual dispute and seek to rely on statutory regimes, such as unfair prejudice and winding-up on just and equitable grounds, to obtain relief. Matters may become particularly complicated where multiple (and oftentimes conflicting) dispute resolution clauses are involved.
While the court will tend to scrutinise each case on its own facts to determine whether some or all of the disputed issues may be hived off for arbitration, in the context of winding-up on just and equitable grounds, even where underlying contracts contain arbitration clauses, factual issues are often so closely intertwined that the court may not be inclined to find it has no jurisdiction entirely.
For further information, please contact Simon Chapman, Partner, Kathryn Sanger, Partner, Stella Hu, Of Counsel, Jocelyn Heng, Associate, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.
The Hong Kong Court of First Instance has declined to prioritise an arbitration agreement where a debtor intended to dispute the existence of a debt without proving there was a bona fide dispute on substantial grounds.
The parties entered into a charterparty on 25 October 2018 by which Asia Master chartered a vessel M.V. “Aoli 5” from Dayang.
The Fixture Note obliged the owner to guarantee that the vessel be watertight and that all fitted gear be workable and in good condition throughout the charter period. It provided for the cost and duration of the hire, with disputes to be resolved by arbitration in Hong Kong under English law. Finally, it applied the New York Produce Exchange 93.
This was the substantive hearing of Dayang’s winding up petition based on the unpaid debt of US$360,919.76, which was originally dated 11 January 2019 then amended on 11 April 2019. Asia Master did not deny the existence of the debt but raised a counterclaim in relation to an alleged breach of Dayang’s obligations as per the Fixture Note and submitted that the dispute should be resolved by arbitration. On 22 February 2019, Asia Master’s counsel sent a letter to Dayang to state its preparedness to settle the dispute by arbitration.
In making its decision, the Court examined the nature of the dispute and any public policy implications.
Whether the debt was disputed in good faith and on substantial grounds
Deputy High Court Judge William Wong SC first observed that the breaches of obligations, for which Asia Master claimed Dayang should take responsibility, remained under investigation. Asia Master was unable to give particulars as to the duration of the alleged delay, the extent of the loss, and whether the counterclaim would exceed (and therefore extinguish) the debt. The Court held it was insufficient for Asia Master merely to state that Dayang ought to bear some responsibility when resisting its petition for winding up based on undisputed debts. The crux of the dispute was held to be whether Asia Master had a bona fide counterclaim on substantial grounds.
The Court accepted Dayang’s argument that, where the entire debt is not disputed (exceeding HK$10,000), it becomes irrelevant whether or not arbitral proceedings commence and the Court must exercise its discretion to wind up the respondent. Where a debtor challenges a petition on the grounds of a genuine and serious counterclaim, which is greater than or equal to the debt, the burden of proof shifts and the debtor must prove the claim is genuine, serious, and of substance. The Court noted similarities with the test for deciding whether a debt is disputed in good faith and on substantial grounds, citing Re Sinom (Hong Kong) Ltd I  5 HKLRD 487 and Re Alpha Building Construction Ltd, unreported, HCCW 283/2014.
The Court found that the lack of precise factual evidence to substantiate Asia Master’s counterclaim was problematic and indicated a prima facie lack of dispute to the debt. Where the underlying contract contains an arbitration clause that covers any dispute relating to the debt, the Court asked: i) is the Court obliged to stay or dismiss the winding up proceedings in favour of arbitration; and if not, ii) should the Court exercise its discretion to do so?
As to the first question, it is established in Hong Kong law that section 20 of the Arbitration Ordinance, which requires the Court to stay its proceedings if there is a valid arbitration agreement, applies only to actions and not to petitions for winding up.
The Court also held that question of its discretion to stay or dismiss a winding up petition was similarly uncontroversial. The Court pointed to section 180(1) of the Companies (Winding Up and Miscellaneous Provisions Ordinance) (Cap. 32). The Court studied two distinct approaches to show how this discretion should be exercised in a principled manner.
The “Salford-Lasmos Approach”
Asia Master relied on the principles in Salford Estates (No 2) Ltd v Altomart Ltd (No 2)  Ch 589 and Re Southwest Pacific Bauxite (HK) Ltd  2 HKLRD 449. It contended that a winding up petition should generally be dismissed where:
- the contract underlying a debt contains an arbitration clause that covers any dispute relating to the debt;
- the company takes the steps required by the clause to commence the mandatory dispute resolution process; and
- the company files an affirmation in accordance with r.32 of the Commission (Winding Up) Rules (Cap. 32H. Sub. Leg.).
However, the judge held that this principle was not engaged as no notice of arbitration had been sent. Consequently, the arbitration proceedings had not been ‘commenced’.
The “Traditional Approach”
The judge noted that the differences between the “Traditional” and “Salford-Lasmos” approaches were:
- under the “Traditional Approach”, there cannot be a dispute if it is shown that A is obviously right and B is obviously wrong. B must show a bona fide dispute on substantial grounds; mere assertions will not suffice;
- under the “Salford-Lasmos Approach”, all B has to do is simply deny A is right. There is no requirement for B to show a bona fide dispute on substantial grounds.
The “Contractual Justification”
Both the Salford and Lasmos judgments acknowledge the importance of protecting the parties’ freedom of contract. Specifically, the courts must protect the parties’ freedom to refer disputes to arbitration. However, the extent to which one’s contractual rights or obligations are (or ought to be) protected by the Court must depend upon the scope of those rights and obligations. This is a matter for contractual interpretation. The analytical starting point should therefore be to construe the agreement to arbitrate.
In the Court’s view, an arbitration clause imposes an obligation to have disputes that fall within its scope determined, or resolved, by arbitration. It also prevents any party from seeking to have such disputes determined or resolved in any other forum.
The Court went on to ask whether presenting a winding up petition to the Companies Courts amounts, per se, to a breach of an agreement to resolve disputes by arbitration. In the Court’s view, “the short answer…is unequivocally ‘no’… [T]he presentation of a winding up petition does not come within the scope of an agreement to arbitrate”.
Ultimately, the Court adopted the “Traditional Approach”.
Winding up as a discretionary remedy
The judgment asserts that there are no strong reasons to put an unprecedented fetter on the Court’s otherwise flexible discretion to make a winding-up order. The judge held:
- the conditions presented in the “Salford-Lasmos Approach” are antithetical to the nature of discretion and represent an unprecedented fetter on the Court’s discretion; and
- the inflexibility of this approach may prejudice the interests of creditors because it can compel the creditor to establish the existence of a debt by an action. This would then deprive it of all tangible remedies where the assets of the debtor have been dissipated by the time the action for debt has been completed by arbitration.
The Court referred to several authorities to demonstrate its discretion to allow winding up petitions, even where the debtor is able to prove a bona fide dispute on substantial grounds.
Public policy concerns: ousting the creditor’s right to wind up
While the judge observed that are no public policy objections to the “Salford-Lasmos Approach”, he maintained that its real issue is the impact on the Court’s discretion to make winding up orders rather than its effect on the petitioner’s “right” to petition to wind up.
The Court made a winding up order against Asia Master, finding:
- to dispute the existence of a debt a debtor must show there is a bona fide dispute on substantial grounds; it cannot merely deny the debt. This test applies regardless of whether or not the debt has arisen from a contract incorporating an arbitration clause;
- the Court must exercise discretion irrespective of whether there is an arbitration agreement;
- commencing arbitration proceedings is not sufficient proof of the existence of a bona fide dispute on substantial grounds, but may constitute relevant evidence of such dispute; and
- where a creditor petitions a winding up order on a debt where there is a bona fide dispute based on substantial grounds, it risks being liable to pay the debtor’s costs on an indemnity basis (and the tort of malicious prosecution).
Recent developments in relation to the issue of winding up petitions with respect to the existence of arbitration clauses / arbitration proceedings between the petitioner and the debtor have seen the Courts shift from the “Traditional Approach” (which is referred to by the Court in paragraph 57 of the judgment as being the need for the debtor to show “a bona fide dispute on substantial grounds” in order to persuade the court to stay or dismiss a winding up petition) to the “Salford-Lasmos Approach” (“Lasmos Approach” previously discussed here) and then back to a more moderate approach in the case But Ka Chon v Interactive Brokers LLC  HKCA 873 (previously discussed here). In light of such developments, it is notable that the Court in Dayang relied primarily on the “Traditional Approach” in deciding in favour of the creditor.
The Court also considered the “Salford-Lasmos Approach”. The Court commented that even if the “Salford-Lasmos Approach” was applicable, it would still have held in favour of the creditor because the debtor did not, in failing to timely commence arbitration proceedings, hold a genuine intention to dispute the debt.
It is also notable that the Court spent more than three-quarters of this judgment in an analytical discourse over the recent developments in this area. As noted by the Court at paragraph 135, “the Singaporean authorities have not been altogether successful in navigating a middle-ground between the Traditional Approach and the Salford-Lasmos Approach. I suspect that similar problems would more or less arise if the same is attempted in Hong Kong”. The Court was, therefore unable to come to a clear conclusion. Nevertheless, the Court, in spending much time on dissecting the matter, has shown a clear intention to resolve this common issue. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that further developments in this area will be forthcoming.
In OCBC Wing Hang Bank Ltd v Kai Sen Shipping Co Ltd  HKCFI 375, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance (Court) dismissed a summons for a stay of proceedings in favour of arbitration due to the impermissibility of incorporating arbitration agreements from a charterparty. The Court declined to stay its proceedings despite the Respondent having filed a Notice of Arbitration in respect of the same dispute, because the Notice included a clear reservation of rights to litigate.
The Applicant, Kai Sen is the owner of the vessel “YUE YOU 903” and carrier of cargoes described in four tanker bills of lading dated 12 April 2018. The cargoes were to be shipped from Dumai, Indonesia to Huangpo, China and the bills of lading were negotiable bills marked “to order”.
The Respondent, OCBC, claimed it granted facilities to Twin Wealth Oils and Fats (Hong Kong) Ltd and indicated Twin Wealth Commercial Offshore de Macau Limitada as the guarantor (Borrowers). OCBC claimed it received the original bills of lading and commercial invoices from the Borrowers in late April 2018 and is therefore the lawful holder of the bills of lading and entitled to immediate possession of the cargoes.
Kai Sen neglected to present the original bills of lading and released the cargoes. OCBC claimed damages against Kai Sen for breaching the contracts of carriage that were contained or evidenced in the bills of lading, and for Kai Sen’s breach of duty as carrier. OCBC issued the writ of summons in January 2019 and filed a statement of claim in March 2019.
In April 2019, Kai Sen applied under Section 20 of the Arbitration Ordinance to stay the proceedings in favour of arbitration. Kai Sen alleged that that OCBC’s claim was subject to an arbitration agreement incorporated by reference from the charterparty into the bills of lading. OCBC denied being party to an arbitration agreement. In support of its claim, Kai Sen pointed out that OCBC had issued of a notice of arbitration on 28 March 2019.
OCBC argued that because the arbitration agreement is governed by English law, specific words of incorporation are required for an arbitration agreement to be validly incorporated into a bill of lading. This is also the position under Hong Kong law. OCBC therefore claimed that the dispute should not be resolved by arbitration because no specific words of incorporation existed in the bills of lading and OCBC had had no knowledge of the terms of the charterparty until this dispute arose. OCBC contended that it merely possessed documents against payment subject to the Uniform Rules for Collection, and that issuing the Notice of Arbitration was not a submission to arbitration but a tactic to beat the limitation period.
The purported arbitration agreement
The relevant provision of the bills of lading provides:
“This shipment is carried under and pursuant to the terms of the Contract of Affreightment/Charter Party dated 2nd March 2018 between [Kai Sen] as owner and TWIN WEALTH MACAO COMMERCIAL OFFSHORE LTD As Charterers, and all conditions, Liberties and exceptions whatsoever of the said Charter apply to and govern the rights of the parties concerned in this shipment…”
Clause 36 of the charterparty dated 2nd March 2018 referred to in the bills of lading provides:
“ARB, IF ANY, IN HONGKONG UNDER ENGLISH LAW.”
What law governs the arbitration agreement?
Queeny Au-Yeung J found that English law was expressly applied as the law of the arbitration agreement, and governed the obligation to submit disputes to arbitration. Under English law, the validity of an arbitration agreement is tested by reference to the law that would apply to the clause assuming it is valid. An express choice of law in the arbitration agreement is conclusive, regardless of the connection to the law governing the contract, due to the doctrine of separability. Following the decisions in Sea Powerful II Special Maritime Enterprises v Oldendorff GMBH & Co KG (the “Zagora”)  EWHC 3212 (Comm) and Klöckner Industrie-Anlagen GmbH and others v. United Republic of Cameroon and Société Camerounaise des Engrais, ICSID Case No. ARB/81/2, the Judge held that although the seat is Hong Kong, English law should govern the incorporation of the arbitration agreement into the bills of lading.
Are specific words of incorporation required under English law ?
Specific words of incorporation must be used to incorporate “collateral” or “ancillary” arbitration or jurisdiction clauses under English law. The judge cited the leading authority, TW Thomas and Co. Limited v The Portsea Steamship Company Limited (The “Portsmouth”)  P.293;  P.55;  A.C. 1, in which general words of incorporation in a bill of lading were held insufficient to incorporate an arbitration agreement in a charterparty.
There are three reasons for this rule.
- bills of lading are negotiable instruments that are frequently traded internationally and incorporating arbitration clauses into them can have jurisdictional consequences
- charterparties often include terms that exceed the legal relationship between the holder of the bill of lading and the carrier; and
- because this is an area of law that greatly relies on clarity and certainty, courts must aim to give effect to settled authority. Consequently, only terms that are directly germane to the matters covered by the bill of lading are incorporated, such as clauses related to shipping or the carriage and delivery of goods, but not dispute resolution clauses.
Are specific words of incorporation required under Hong Kong law?
The judge held that the rule in Thomas v Portsea applies in Hong Kong. In The Pioneer Container  2 AC 324 and The Mahkutai  2 HKC 1, the Privy Council confirmed that the rule in Thomas v Portsea applies only to bills of lading or negotiable instruments, and not to other contracts (in respect of which the incorporation of arbitration clauses is permitted by Section 19(1) of the Arbitration Ordinance.
Therefore, the application would be dismissed regardless of whether English or Hong Kong law applied. In fact, the Court surveyed the laws of Singapore, Australia and Canada to demonstrate consistent application of this rule to disputes over bills of lading.
As a result, it was irrelevant whether OCBC had knowledge of the terms of the charterparty because an arbitration agreement could not be incorporated from it into the bills of lading. The Court rejected Kai Sen’s argument that OCBC, with over 30 years of experience, should be aware that an arbitration clause is a normal term in a typical charterparty.
Did OCBC unequivocally submit to arbitration?
Kai Sen claimed that by serving the Notice of Arbitration pursuant to Clause 36 of the charterparty, OCBC had submitted to arbitration. The Court found that parties may impliedly consent to arbitration by commencing or participating in an arbitration without reservation according to Section 19(1) of the Ordinance.
By expressly disclaiming acceptance of Kai Sen’s position and maintaining that Hong Kong courts had jurisdiction in its cover letter, which was delivered on the same date as the Notice of Arbitration, OCBC had manifested its intention to beat the limitation period pursuant to Art III, Rule 6 of the Hague-Visby Rules and had reserved its rights. Therefore, as the arbitration clause was not incorporated from the charterparty into the bills of lading and OCBC had reserved its right to pursue court proceedings, the Court found that it had jurisdiction and dismissed the summons for a stay of proceedings in favour of arbitration.
This case serves as an important reminder that
- express wording is required to incorporate an arbitration clause into bills of lading and other negotiable instruments; and
- commencing or participating in arbitral proceedings will not necessarily constitute consent to submit disputes to arbitration if accompanied by an express reservation to the right to litigate.
In the recent case of Balram Chainrai v Kushnir Family (Holdings)  HKCFI 2866, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance (CFI) refused to set aside an ex parte order allowing service out of the jurisdiction on the basis that the defendant had submitted to the jurisdiction.
Background to the dispute
See our previous discussion of this matter here and here. In the most recent developments, the Third Defendant, Mr Israel Sorin Shohat, in proceedings commenced by the Plaintiff, Mr Balram Chainrai, sought to appeal in the CFI an earlier decision of Master Eliza Chang in which it was held that the Third Defendant had submitted to the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong courts in relation to a matter related to an Israeli arbitral award issued in 2013 and had therefore waived his right to challenge jurisdiction.
Issues before the court
The Third Defendant made three principal arguments on appeal to the CFI:
- The Third Defendant had not submitted to the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong courts;
- The Plaintiff’s ex parte application obtaining permission to serve a writ of summons on the Third Defendant out of the jurisdiction in November 2015 (Ex Parte Order) should be set aside on the basis, amongst other things, that (1) there was no serious issue to be tried against the Third Defendant, (2) there was no good arguable case against the Third Defendant, and (3) Hong Kong was not the most appropriate forum on the basis that all events took place in Israel and all but one of the parties was from Israel; and
- Even if there has been a submission to the jurisdiction that submission is limited in nature and amounts only to an acceptance of jurisdiction and not acceptance of the exercise by the court of that jurisdiction. Consequently it is appropriate now to stay these proceedings on the grounds of forum non conveniens.
The CFI dealt first with the question of whether the Third Defendant had submitted to the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong courts. Master Eliza Chang had previously determined that the Third Defendant had submitted to the jurisdiction on the basis of two key events:
- His application under Order 3, Rule 5 of the Rules of the High Court dated 11 February 2016, requiring the Plaintiff to file and serve a Statement of Claim within 7 days or otherwise have their claim dismissed (Application for the Unless Order).
- His commencement of strike-out proceedings on 3 May 2016 (Application for Strike-Out).
In making its determination, the court cited the decisions in ABN Amro Bank NV v Fortgang  2 HKLRD 349 and Global Multimedia International Ltd v ARA Media Services & Others  1 All ER (Comm) 1160, and asked itself whether “the only possible explanation for the conduct relied on is an intention on the part of the defendant to have the case tried” in Hong Kong.
With regard to the Application for the Unless Order, the court took the view that the Third Defendant should be entitled to ask for further details of the claim against him, even if this meant using the procedures of the court. Understanding the nature of the claim was said to be important to various aspects of the test under RHC Order 11 Rule 1(1), and hence consistent with deciding whether to seek to set aside the Ex Parte Order. The court therefore disagreed with the conclusion of the Master, and held that the Application for the Unless Order was insufficient to show submission to the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong courts. Although it would have been advisable for the Third Defendant to reserve his rights when making the application, this was not held to be decisive.
With regard to the Application for Strike-Out, the court agreed with the Third Defendant that such an application did not necessarily amount to a submission to the jurisdiction. However, the issue was said to be very fact-dependent. Although there was no submission where the application was made on the basis of defects apparent in the Plaintiff’s original writ, the court noted that the application in this case had gone much further and asked the court to consider the merits of the case. This, the court said, demonstrated that the Third Defendant had accepted that the court had jurisdiction to do so. Although the Third Defendant had argued that the application had been made subject to a reservation of rights, the court noted that this express reservation was not made until two weeks after the Application for Strike-Out was made and was insufficient.
In these circumstances, the court held that the Third Defendant had submitted to the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong courts and dismissed his appeal.
The court’s conclusion on the issue of submission to jurisdiction made it unnecessary to address the other arguments. Nevertheless, the CFI outlined its views on each issue:
- With regard to the Third Defendant’s attempt to set aside the Ex Parte Order, the court indicated that it was in favour of the Third Defendant. It observed that although there was a serious issue to be tried between the Plaintiff and the Third Defendant, there was no good arguable case against the Third Defendant that falls under the Necessary or Proper Party Gateway of RHC Order 11, rule 1(1)(c). The court further noted that the extensive connections to Israel meant that Hong Kong was clearly not the natural forum.
- With regard to the Third Defendant’s argument that its submission was partial and only prevented him from challenging the existence of jurisdiction but not its exercise, the court acknowledged that in theory it was able to stay the proceedings on the grounds of forum non conveniens under RHC Order 12 rule 8, however it refused to do so. It stated that on the facts the nature of the submission to the jurisdiction was absolute, and so it was not open to the court to grant a stay. Although the court retained an inherent jurisdiction where circumstances arose subsequent to the time limits in that provision, that jurisdiction could not be exercised where the defendant had effectively debarred himself through submitting to the jurisdiction.
The case serves as a cautionary tale for any party wishing to challenge the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong courts and a useful reminder that a party wishing to do so should expressly and clearly reserve this right from the outset of the proceedings. The risks of not following this advice is a finding from the Hong Kong courts that the party has submitted to the jurisdiction which in turn will lead to delays in the resolution of the dispute and wasted costs.
It is important to note that this case does not serve to tarnish Hong Kong’s reputation as an arbitration-friendly jurisdiction. The fact that a prior arbitral award had been issued was unrelated to the CFI’s consideration of whether the Third Defendant had submitted to the jurisdiction.
In GM1 and GM2 v KC  HKCFI 2793, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance granted an interim anti-suit injunction restraining mainland Chinese court proceedings involving a third party, and clarified the jurisdiction basis for doing so.
The decision reflects the long-standing pro-arbitration approach of the Hong Kong courts and confirms that arbitration clauses are not to be interpreted narrowly, but may cover claims against the non-contracting affiliates or associates of a contracting party. The decision also reiterates that in considering an application for an anti-suit injunction, the question for the Court remains whether or not its jurisdiction is invoked, and the fact that the foreign Court would assume jurisdiction and refuse to stay the foreign proceedings is not relevant.
GM1 and KC entered into a guarantee (Guarantee) which contained an arbitration clause in favour of arbitration in Hong Kong administered by the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre.
KC later commenced legal proceedings in the Court of Suzhou (Mainland Proceedings) against GM1 and GM2, the latter being an affiliate of GM1 who was not a party to the Guarantee. In parallel, there were pending arbitration proceedings between GM1 and KC pursuant to the Guarantee, and related arbitration proceedings between GM1 and a wholly-owned subsidiary of KC.
GM1 and GM2 sought an anti-suit injunction from the Hong Kong Court to restrain KC from pursuing the Mainland Proceedings and commencing further proceedings in breach of the arbitration agreement, and an “interim-interim” injunction in the same terms pending the substantive hearing of the injunction application.
Decision on interim-interim injunction
The Court did not determine the substantive interim injunction application, only the “interim-interim” injunction.
In the present application, the questions before the Hong Kong Court were:
- whether the Court had power to grant an interim anti-suit injunction in favour of an arbitration in Hong Kong under section 45 of the Arbitration Ordinance (AO);
- whether the proper course would be to leave it to the Mainland Court to recognise and enforce the arbitration agreement (including determining the validity of the arbitration clause); and
- whether the Court can grant an anti-suit injunction in relation to proceedings commenced against a third party such as GM2.
On the first issue, the Court confirmed that it has power under AO section 45 to grant an interim anti-suit injunction. The objects of the AO are to facilitate fair and speedy resolution of disputes by arbitration without unnecessary expense and enforce arbitration agreements. Specifically, the Court has power under AO section 45 to grant interim measures which, pursuant to AO section 35, include an order to “maintain or restore the status quo pending determination of the dispute“. An anti-suit injunction is to enforce the positive promise of a party to arbitrate disputes and the negative right not to be vexed by foreign proceedings, and is therefore in line with AO section 35 to maintain such status quo pending determination of the dispute. The Court therefore had the power to grant an anti-suit injunction under AO section 45.
On the second issue, the Court held that the following grounds were not grounds to refuse the anti-suit injunction / not stay the Mainland Proceedings:
- that the Mainland Court may insist on its own jurisdiction and would not have granted a stay of the proceedings;
- that it may not be possible for KC to discontinue or withdraw from the Mainland Proceedings after its case had been accepted by the Mainland Court; and
- that the existence and validity of the arbitration clause was disputed.
As a matter of principle, the arbitral tribunal can decide on its own competence and jurisdiction, and, as the supervisory court, the Hong Kong Court has jurisdiction to review the findings of the tribunal on its own jurisdiction. The Court further noted that, if GM1 and GM2 later sought enforcement of the award in the Mainland, it would be open to the Mainland Court to review at that point in time the validity of the arbitration agreement and resist enforcement on that basis.
On the third issue, the Court held that anti-suit relief may be granted against a third party if the arbitration agreement can be construed to cover claims not only against the contracting party, but also against the non-contracting affiliates or associates of the contracting party. This is based on the principle in Giorgio Armani SpA v Elan Clothes Co Ltd  HKCFI 530 that rational businessmen would have wanted the disputes with affiliates of the contract to be decided in the same forum in the same manner of dispute resolution. The Court did not decide decisively on the third issue, but it was satisfied that there was a serious question to be tried in the adjourned substantive hearing for the interim injunction application as to whether KC’s claims against GM2 in the Mainland Proceedings should be dealt with by the same arbitral tribunal based on the specific circumstances in relation to the existence, validity and binding effect of the Guarantee and its arbitration agreement.
For these reasons, the Court concluded that it was within the jurisdiction of the Court, and that it was just and fair to grant the interim injunction pending the conclusion of the substantive hearing of the injunction application.
This decision demonstrates the Court is prepared and equipped to grant an anti-suit injunction to restrain a party from pursuing non-arbitral proceedings even against a third party, to the extent that such proceedings are covered by the arbitration agreement. The fact that the foreign Court may insist on its jurisdiction and refuse to stay the foreign proceedings is no bar to the Hong Kong Court granting an anti-suit jurisdiction.
This case also serves as a helpful reminder that parties should carefully consider the implications of parallel proceedings and seek legal advice for each particular case if necessary.
In Wang Peiji v Wei Zhiyong  HKCFI 2593;  HKEC 3446, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance has set aside an order to enforce a mainland Chinese arbitration award, rejecting arguments that a twelve year limitation period applied because the award had been made under seal.
The Plaintiff, the Defendant and a third party entered into a loan agreement, under which the Defendant and the third party borrowed RMB 22 million. In case of default, the Defendant and the third party would pay interest at 2% per month, and the Defendant’s companies would guarantee the repayment. The Defendant, the third party and the Defendant’s companies failed to repay the loan, so the Plaintiff commenced arbitration at the Guangzhou Arbitration Commission, which made an award in the Plaintiff’s favour on 20 April 2009.
The Plaintiff commenced enforcement proceedings in the Panyu People’s Court where it recovered RMB 4,734,019.48, leaving RMB 3,353,496.92 plus interest outstanding under the award. The Plaintiff then commenced enforcement proceedings in Hong Kong to recover the remaining amount. On 14 May 2019 Madam Justice Mimmie Chan granted leave to enforce the award, holding that the Defendant should pay the outstanding sum plus interest. The Defendant appealed.
In setting aside the enforcement order, the court addressed two main issues.
The applicable limitation period
The first issue was the applicable limitation period under the Limitation Ordinance. The Plaintiff argued that the applicable provision was section 4(3) Limitation Ordinance (Cap. 347), which provides a limitation period of twelve years meaning that the Plaintiff was entitled to enforce the award until 20 April 2021. This was based on the fact that the award of the Guangzhou Arbitration Commission was executed under seal. The Defendant argued that the relevant period was six years under section 4(1)(c). The Court ultimately agreed with the Defendant. It rejected the Plaintiff’s argument, stating that the relevant consideration is whether the underlying contractual document, not the award, was executed under seal. As there was no suggestion of that in this case, the Court held that the default limitation period of six years applied.
Suspension of the limitation period
In the alternative, the Plaintiff argued that the limitation should be suspended for the period in which the Plaintiff was engaged in enforcement proceedings before the Chinese court. The Plaintiff sought to distinguish CL v SCG  2 HKLRD 144, in which the judge relied on the English case Agromet v Maulden Engineering Ltd  1 WLR 762 to reject the suspension argument. The judge in CL stated that there was no provision in the Limitation Ordinance or the Arbitration Ordinance that the limitation period should not run during the period a party is seeking to enforce an award abroad. The Plaintiff sought to distinguish the case on the basis that, unlike in CL, enforcement efforts in this case went on for considerable time and were successful, meaning that it could not be expected to have ceased its efforts in China.
Despite these arguments, the Court again found in favour of the Defendant. It held that the ruling in CL had been clear, and the fact that the Plaintiff had had more success in China than the plaintiff in CL was not a material difference which distinguished the two cases. The Court therefore allowed the Defendant’s application to set aside the enforcement order, and made a costs order in its favour.
The case serves as a reminder to pay close attention to limitation periods. In deciding where to bring enforcement proceedings, parties should consider not only the value of the defendant’s assets in a particular jurisdiction, but also the effect that the length of enforcement proceedings could have on their ability to enforce in other jurisdictions. Parties and their legal advisers must consider all relevant factors when assessing where to enforce.
The Supreme People’s Court of China and the Department of Justice of Hong Kong SAR announced today that 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 will come into effect on 1 October 2019 in both Mainland China and Hong Kong. The SPC also released an explanatory memo setting out its understanding of key aspects of the Arrangement and its implementation.
The SPC and the DOJ signed the Arrangement on 2 April 2019. As reported in our posts of 2 April and 4 April, the Arrangement empowers Mainland Chinese courts to order interim measures in support of Hong Kong-seated arbitrations, making Hong Kong the only seat outside Mainland China to benefit from such support.
The SPC and DOJ also released a list of “qualified arbitral institutions” in Hong Kong. These are the only institutions whose arbitrations enjoy the benefit ofthe Arrangement. They include:
- Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre
- China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission Hong Kong Arbitration Center
- International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce – Asia Office
- Hong Kong Maritime Arbitration Group
- South China International Arbitration Center (HK)
- eBRAM International Online Dispute Resolution Centre
Among other things, the SPC memo confirms that the Arrangement will apply to arbitral proceedings commenced prior to, but not yet completed as of, 1 October 2019. As such, we anticipate that interim relief applications under the Arrangement are likely to emerge soon.
In the recent case of AIG Insurance Hong Kong Ltd v Lynn McCullough and William McCullough  HKCFI 1649, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance (CFI) considered the effect of an arbitration agreement under an insurance policy and, in particular, the circumstances in which an anti-suit injunction may be granted to restrain a party from pursuing foreign proceedings.
The CFI held that, as a matter of Hong Kong law, a party is not entitled to found a claim on rights arising out of an insurance policy without also being bound by the dispute resolution provisions in the policy. The CFI went on to hold that an anti-suit injunction will ordinarily be granted to restrain such a claimant from pursuing proceedings in a non-contractual forum unless there are strong reasons to the contrary.
The full judgment is available here.
The underlying facts of the case relate to an accident which took place whilst Mrs Lynn McCullough and Mr William McCullough were on holiday in the Caribbean in 2015. During that holiday, Mrs McCullough suffered a fall from a zip line, owned and operated by Rain Forest Adventures (Holdings) Ltd, Rain Forest Sky Rides Ltd and Rain Forest Tram Ltd (together, Rain Forest), and was rendered permanently quadriplegic.
AIG Insurance Hong Kong Ltd (AIG) had previously issued a Directors’ and Officers’ Liability Insurance Policy to Rain Forest (the Policy). The Policy covered Rain Forest (as the policyholder) and its directors, including a Mr Harald Joachim von der Goltz. The Policy referred any disputes arising under the Policy to arbitration in Hong Kong under the rules of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC).
On 15 January 2016, the McCulloughs commenced a claim in the Florida courts against several defendants, including Rain Forest, alleging negligence in the operation of the zip line excursion. They sought damages for the injuries that Mrs McCullough sustained.
On 14 July 2016, the McCulloughs filed a Second Amended Complaint adding Mr von der Goltz as a defendant, who subsequently gave notice to AIG that he was seeking an indemnity under the Policy as a director of the policy holder. The claim was rejected by AIG on the basis that claims resulting from a bodily injury were excluded under the Policy.
On 24 April 2018, a dispute resolution agreement was entered into by the McCulloughs and the Rain Forest defendants now including Mr von der Goltz. This agreement was approved by the Florida court which referred the matter to arbitration. The arbitration award was subsequently issued on 28 May 2018 and judgment was entered into on 12 July 2018 in favour of the McCulloughs against, among others, Mr von der Goltz, in the sum of US$ 65.5 million.
On 20 August 2018, the McCulloughs filed the Third Amended Complaint adding AIG as a defendant. The Third Amended Complaint contained a “common law tort claim available under Florida law against [AIG] for having failed to act in good faith in handling, litigating, and settling the US Proceedings, resulting in an excess judgment (i.e. judgment in excess of Policy limits) being entered into against the insured, Mr. von der Goltz” (the Bad Faith Claim). The nature of the Bad Faith Claim was that if AIG had honoured the Policy and provided Mr von der Goltz with US$ 5 million in coverage (i.e. the Policy limit), it would have been possible for him to have settled the McCulloughs’ claim. It was submitted that this failure by AIG exposed Mr von der Goltz to a liability of US$ 65.5 million and as a result, he had a claim against AIG for this amount. The right to claim directly against AIG for the US$ 65.5 million was said to be based on the McCulloughs being judgment creditors of Mr von der Goltz.
In the instant case, there were two applications before the CFI:
- An application from AIG for a continuation of an ex parte injunction originally issued on 18 December 2018 by DHCJ Simon Leung restraining the McCulloughs from pursuing proceedings in the Florida courts against AIG on the basis that the Policy provides that all disputes regarding coverage under the Policy should be settled by arbitration in Hong Kong under the HKIAC Rules; and
- An application from the McCulloughs for, amongst other things, (1) a declaration that the CFI should not exercise any jurisdiction that it may have; and (2) an order staying the action in the Hong Kong courts in favour of the proceedings in the Florida courts.
AIG’s position was that the underlying issue of coverage under the Policy should be determined by arbitration in Hong Kong under the HKIAC rules, irrespective of whether or not the McCulloughs were the insured under the Policy.
The McCullough’s position was that their cause of action against AIG was a freestanding tortious claim and that, as non-parties to the Policy, they cannot be compelled to arbitrate it.
Accordingly, the principal question for the CFI to decide was whether the proceedings commenced by the McCulloughs in the Florida courts, despite the McCulloughs not being parties to the Policy, amounted in substance to a claim to enforce the Policy such that the McCulloughs were bound by the agreement to arbitrate as set out in the Policy.
The CFI accepted the position of AIG that the dispute was to be resolved in accordance with the dispute resolution procedure provided for in the Policy, namely by arbitration in Hong Kong under the HKIAC rules, and exercised its equitable jurisdiction to grant an anti-suit injunction restraining the McCulloughs from pursuing proceedings in the Florida courts.
The CFI held that the relevant issue for the purposes of determining whether the anti-suit injunction should be granted was whether there was coverage under the Policy: “Such issue is clearly contractual, since it determines the liability of the insurer to the insured under the terms of the policy“. The CFI went on to hold that the establishment of coverage is a pre-condition to the Bad Faith Claim against AIG and, as a matter of Hong Kong law, the governing law of the Policy, AIG is entitled to have it determined in accordance with the contractual procedure.
In this regard, the CFI followed the principle applied in Qingdao Huiquan Shipping Company v Shanghai Dong He Xin Industry Group Co Ltd  EWHC 3009 (Comm) that a party “is not entitled to found a claim on rights arising out of a contract without also being bound by the forum provisions of that contract“.
The CFI concluded that an anti-suit injunction will ordinarily be granted to restrain a claimant from pursuing proceedings in a non-contractual forum unless there are strong reasons to the contrary, whether the claimant is a party to the policy or not. The basis of the CFI’s decision was that a dispute resolution provision is an essential part of the contractual basis upon which coverage arises under an insurance policy, and a party seeking to enforce a policy cannot do so free of its contractual dispute resolution mechanism.
This case serves as a useful reminder of the Hong Kong courts’ desire to give effect to an arbitration agreement wherever appropriate, albeit on this occasion in somewhat unusual circumstances. In so doing, the CFI has further reinforced Hong Kong’s reputation as a pro-arbitration jurisdiction.
In making its decision, the CFI has helpfully confirmed that an anti-suit injunction to restrain a party from pursuing proceedings in a non-contractual forum will ordinarily only be denied if there are strong reasons not to grant it. Accordingly, the Court has emphasised the high bar that the counter-party has to meet in order to resist such an injunction.
An article in which Simon Chapman and Naomi Lisney examined this decision, which was published on Lexis®PSL Arbitration on 15 August 2019, can be found here.
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.
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.
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); 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.
 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.