Hong Kong–Mainland interim relief arrangement to take effect 1 October

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.

Helen Tang
Helen Tang
Partner, Shanghai
+86 21 2322 2160
Weina Ye
Weina Ye
Senior Associate, Shanghai
+86 21 2322 2132
Stella Hu
Stella Hu
Of Counsel, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4248

HONG KONG: COURT GRANTS ANTI-SUIT INJUNCTION TO RESTRAIN FOREIGN PROCEEDINGS IN BREACH OF AN ARBITRATION AGREEMENT UNDER AN INSURANCE POLICY

In the recent case of AIG Insurance Hong Kong Ltd v Lynn McCullough and William McCullough [2019] 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.

BACKGROUND

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

DECISION

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 [2018] 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.

COMMENTS

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.

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
Madhu Krishnan
Madhu Krishnan
Registered Foreign Lawyer (England & Wales)
+852 2101 4207

 

Hong Kong – Mainland interim relief arrangement: full text and more detail

 

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.

 

Application process

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.

 

General requirements

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[1]); 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.

[1] 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.

May Tai
May Tai
Managing Partner - Greater China
+852 2101 4031
Kathryn Sanger
Kathryn Sanger
Partner, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4029
Stella Hu
Stella Hu
Senior Associate, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4248

AUSTRALIA AND INDONESIA SIGN COMPREHENSIVE ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT

On 4 March 2019, Australia and Indonesia signed the Australia-Indonesia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (“CEPA“). In this post, we briefly consider some of the noteworthy features of the CEPA chapter on investment and in particular its provisions regarding investor-State dispute settlement (“ISDS“).

Indonesia and Australia signed a bilateral investment treaty (“BIT“) containing ISDS provisions in 1992. Both States are also party to the ASEAN-Australia- New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (“AANZFTA”), signed by Australia in 2009 and Indonesia in 2012, which contains an investment chapter.

As we reported in a previous post, Indonesia announced in 2015 that it would seek to renegotiate and replace its older investment treaties with more modern agreements. The Australia-Indonesia BIT, however, will remain in force even after CEPA enters into force. This is in contrast to the Hong Kong-Australia Free Trade Agreement signed this week (see our post here) pursuant to which Australia and Hong Kong have agreed to terminate the Hong Kong-Australia BIT, which was signed in 1993 and became infamous in Australia after Philip Morris used the treaty to commence arbitration against Australia challenging the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011.

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AUSTRALIA AND HONG KONG SIGN NEW TRADE AGREEMENT CONTAINING INVESTOR-STATE DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROVISIONS

On 26 March 2019, Australia and Hong Kong signed the Australia-Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement (A-HKFTA) and its associated Investment Agreement (Agreement).

These agreements were negotiated against the background of a heated political debate in Australia regarding the benefits and risks of investment treaties. This debate occurred as a result of an arbitration brought against Australia by Philip Morris in 2011 under the 1993 Hong Kong-Australia Bilateral Investment Treaty (1993 BIT), challenging the introduction of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 (Cth).

The 1993 BIT will be replaced by the new Agreement once it enters into force, which is expected to occur after both countries complete their respective treaty-making processes and ratify the agreements. Accordingly, investors who may have a claim under the 1993 BIT should consider whether to pursue it before that treaty is terminated.

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HONG KONG COURT FINDS ENFORCEMENT OF ARBITRAL AWARD TIME BARRED

In CL v SCG [2019] HKCFI 398, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance found that enforcement of a 2011 arbitral award by CL was time barred, clarifying when a cause of action for failure to honour an award accrues and the effect of the Arrangement Concerning Mutual Enforcement of Arbitral Awards between the Mainland and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (the “Mainland and Hong Kong Arrangement“) on time limits under the Hong Kong Limitation Ordinance.

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HONG KONG COURT GRANTS ANTI-SUIT INJUNCTION TO BIND THIRD PARTY TO ARBITRATION AGREEMENT

In Dickson Valora Group (Holdings) Co Ltd v Fan Ji Qian [2019] HKCFI 482, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance has granted an anti-suit injunction restraining mainland Chinese court proceedings commenced by Fan Ji Qian on the ground that the dispute should be referred to arbitration. Although Fan was not a signatory to the contract containing the arbitration clause, he had nevertheless sought to enforce a contractual right under that agreement, such that he was also bound by any conditions integral to the exercise of this right (including the agreement to arbitrate).

This decision shows that an arbitration agreement can, in certain circumstances, bind third parties. This is something which should be considered when drafting agreements which purport to confer a benefit on non-signatories, particularly if it is intended that third parties exercising rights under the contract should also be bound by the arbitration provisions.

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WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE ASIAN INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT BANK?

AIIB and HKIAC are presenting a joint seminar on the AIIB’s status, policies and projects on 21 February. The seminar, which is supported by Hong Kong’s Department of Justice and the ICC, features:

  • an interview with AIIB’s General Counsel, Gerard Sanders
  • a presentation from AIIB’s head of corporate Law, Peter Quayle, on the international legal status of AIIB and dispute resolution
  • a roundtable discussion on what makes a “shovel-ready” AIIB project involving AIIB’s senior legal consultant, Jennifer Handz

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FUNDING IN SINGAPORE AND HONG KONG: HERBERT SMITH FREEHILLS CONTRIBUTES TO LEADING PUBLICATION, ACTS ON FUNDED CASES

Third party funding is a hot topic in Asia.

As noted on this blog, Singapore introduced legislation in 2017 to allow third-party funding in international arbitration and associated proceedings, including enforcement and mediation. Hong Kong’s funding legislation takes effect today.

Our Singapore team is already representing clients in two significant Singapore-seated arbitrations in which the claimants are third-party funded. It is understood that these are amongst the first funded arbitrations in Singapore. We expect Hong Kong arbitrations to generate high levels of interest in funding once the law is in force.

In the light of these exciting developments, Herbert Smith Freehills has contributed the Hong Kong and Singapore chapters of Getting the Deal Through: Litigation Funding 2019. The chapters discuss the trends and legal landscape for funding in both Hong Kong and Singapore.

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