Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996

Foreign Arbitral Award – The Pro-Enforcement Trend Continues

The courts of this country should not be places where resolution of disputes begins. They should be the places where the disputes end after alternative methods of resolving disputes have been considered and tried.

Sandra Day O’Connor, Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States

The law on Arbitration in India is constantly evolving. Arbitration clauses are now the norm that figure in nearly all commercial agreements whether it is domestic in nature or has an international flavour. Over the years, the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (Act) has undergone several changes to address various issues arising thereunder. An important aspect of the Act that has seen significant development is enforcement of foreign awards, both through legislative and judicial intervention.
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Avitel v. HSBC: Finality on the Question of Arbitrability when Allegations of Fraud are Raised By Indranil Deshmukh, Vineet Unnikrishnan and Samhita Mehra The Supreme Court in the case of Avitel Post Studioz Limited v. HSBC PI Holdings (Mauritius) Limited (“Avitel Case”) has recently engaged with the question of whether allegations of fraud can be adjudicated in arbitration, or whether they require adjudication before a court. In its judgment, the Court has laid down clear tests to determine when a dispute involving allegation of fraud is arbitrable, and when it would require adjudication before a court. Material Facts In this case, a Share Subscription Agreement (“SSA”) dated April 21, 2011, was entered into between Avitel and HSBC, by way of which HSBC invested USD 60 million in Avitel to acquire 7.80% of its shareholding. The SSA contained a clause providing for arbitration at the Singapore International Arbitration Centre in case of a dispute. An accompany Shareholders’ Agreement (“SHA”) dated May 6, 2011, was also executed, which contained an identical arbitration clause. Thereafter, a dispute arose between the parties. HSBC alleged that the promoters of Avitel, namely, the Jain Family, had induced HSBC to invest in Avitel by making a representation that Avitel was on the verge of finalising a lucrative contract with the British Broadcasting Corporation. HSBC alleged that there was no such contract, and that around USD 51 million from the USD 60 million investment had in fact been siphoned away to other companies owned or controlled by the Jain Family. Arbitral proceedings were initiated, and a final award was passed in favour of HSBC inter alia holding the above allegations to be true (“Award”). The matter reached the Supreme Court in the context of a petition under Section 9 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“Act”), filed by HSBC seeking orders of deposit of the full claim amount of USD 60 million to protect the subject matter of the Award, pending enforcement of the same. Issues and Discussion The Supreme Court was asked to consider whether HSBC had a prima facie case for enforcement of the Award in India. Challenging the enforcement of the Award, it was contended on behalf of Avitel that since the allegations of fraud have been made in arbitral proceedings involving serious criminal offences, such as forgery and impersonation, such a dispute is not arbitrable then under Indian law and the award unenforceable, as a consequence. On behalf of HSBC, it was contended that non-arbitrability would be triggered only in cases where serious allegations of fraud would vitiate the arbitration agreement and not in other cases. After taking stock of the jurisprudence on this point thus far, the Court held that “serious allegations of fraud”, leading to non-arbitrability would arise only if either of following two tests were satisfied, and not otherwise. 1. Where the Court finds that the arbitration agreement itself cannot be said to exist being vitiated by fraud; or 2. Where allegations are made against the State or its instrumentalities, relating to arbitrary, fraudulent, or mala fide conduct, giving rise to question of public law as opposed to questions limited to the contractual relationship between the parties. This means that all other cases involving “serious allegations of fraud” i.e. cases that do not meet the above two tests laid down by the Supreme Court, would be arbitrable. Applying the aforesaid test to the facts before it, the Court found that the issues raised and answered in the Award were the subject matter of civil as opposed to criminal proceedings. The fact that a separate criminal proceeding was sought to be initiated by HSBC is of no consequence whatsoever. It was held that the impersonation, false representations and siphoning of funds found to have been committed were all inter parties and had no “public flavour” so as to be non-arbitrable on account of allegations of fraud. As such, the Supreme Court inter alia upheld the orders of deposit of the full claim amount of USD 60 million to be kept aside for the purposes of enforcement of the Award in India. Way Forward The Supreme Court’s judgment in the Avitel Case lends clarity to courts and arbitral tribunals, which should aid in weeding out incessant and creative submissions to “wriggle out” out of arbitration agreements. The two grounds forming exceptions to arbitrability of matters involving serious allegations of fraud as crystallised by the Supreme Court are clearly identifiable and easily discernable. Therefore, the judgment in the Avitel Case is likely to save precious judicial time that may otherwise have been spent in deliberating on the question of arbitrability of a dispute involving allegations of fraud.  

The Supreme Court in the case of Avitel Post Studioz Limited v. HSBC PI Holdings (Mauritius) Limited[1] (“Avitel Case”) has recently engaged with the question of whether allegations of fraud can be adjudicated  in arbitration, or whether they require adjudication before a court. In its judgment, the Court has laid down clear tests to determine when a dispute involving allegation of fraud is arbitrable, and when it would require adjudication before a court.
Continue Reading Avitel v. HSBC – Finality on the Question of Arbitrability when Allegations of Fraud are Raised SMM

MULTIPLICITY OF PROCEEDINGS DEFEATS THE PURPOSE OF ALTERNATE DISPUTE RESOLUTION - DELHI HIGH COURT SMM

Introduction

Recently, the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi (“Court”) in Gammon India Ltd. and Anr. v. National Highways Authority of India[1], had the occasion to opine on the scourge of multiplicity of arbitral proceedings while dealing with a petition under Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“Act”) wherein the objections raised were primarily based on the findings of a subsequent award. In dealing with the issues before it, the Court revisited various judicial precedents while setting out the principles to be considered when referring multiple disputes arising out of the same agreement to arbitration.
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Arbitrator’s power to recall its order of termination of arbitral proceeding- A tale of Dubiety - Part II

In Part I of this post, we inter-alia attempted to highlight the law (and perhaps a relevant counter perspective) in relation to the power of the arbitrator to recall its order of termination of arbitral proceedings passed under Section 25(a) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (hereinafter referred to as the “Act”). In this post, we attempt to answer whether such a remedy would extend to termination of arbitral proceedings under Section 32(2)(c) of the Act, and other issues incidental thereto.
Continue Reading Arbitrator’s power to recall its order of termination of arbitral proceeding- A tale of Dubiety? (Part II)

Introduction:

This article analyses the legal basis and the genesis of the power of an arbitrator to recall its order of termination of proceeding on account of default of the Claimant.

India seated arbitral proceedings, whether ad-hoc or institutional, are governed by the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (hereinafter referred to as the Act), which is based on the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration, 1985 (UNCITRAL Model Law). Whilst arbitrators are not bound by the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (CPC) or the Indian Evidence Act, 1872[1], they is usually guided by the broad principles enshrined in the said enactments, while conducting the arbitral proceedings. In this regard, it is pertinent to note that under Order IX Rule 13 of CPC, the Court has power to recall its order. Under the said rule, if the Court is satisfied that summons was not duly served on the defendant, or that there was sufficient cause for defendant’s failure to appear when the suit was called on for hearing, the Court is empowered inter-alia to pass an order setting aside an ex- parte decree that may have been passed against the defendant.


Continue Reading Arbitrator’s power to recall its order of termination of arbitral proceeding- A tale of Dubiety? (Part I)

Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (Act) sets out the grounds on which arbitral awards passed in domestic arbitrations and international commercial arbitrations seated in India can be set aside.  As regards foreign awards (i.e. arbitral awards passed in foreign seated arbitrations), whilst the same cannot be challenged in India, the enforcement of the same in India can be validly objected to by the award debtor on grounds that are set out in Section 48 of the Act. The grounds for setting aside arbitral awards passed in domestic arbitrations and international commercial arbitrations seated in India under Section 34 of the Act and the grounds for refusing enforcement of foreign awards in India under Section 48 of the Act are substantially identical. One such ground is if the arbitral award is found to be contrary to the “public policy of India”.


Continue Reading Supreme Court’s judgment in Vijay Karia v. Prysmian Cavi e Sistemi S.r.l.: Impact on challenges to awards passed in International Commercial Arbitrations conducted in India

Section 34 4 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 – A fly in the ointment Part II

In Part I of this post, we examined the contours of Section 34(4) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (the “Arbitration Act”), pre-conditions for its invocation and the scope of the powers conferred upon the court thereunder. In this post, we analyse some of the questions and ambiguities that may arise in the applicability of Section 34(4) of the Arbitration Act.

Can Section 34(4) of the Arbitration Act be invoked to eliminate any ground under Section 34(2) of the Arbitration Act?

Section 34(2) of the Arbitration Act provides two sets of grounds on which an award may be set aside. Section 34(2)(a) sets out grounds of challenge such as incapacity of a party, invalidity of the arbitration agreement, lack of proper notice of appointment of the arbitrator or of the arbitral proceedings or inability of a party to present his case, an award which deals with disputes not submitted to arbitration, improper composition of the arbitral tribunal or arbitral procedure contrary to the agreement between the parties, etc. These grounds must be established by the party challenging the award, on the basis of the record of the arbitral tribunal.
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Section 34 - 4 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 – A fly in the ointment - Part I

Introduction

The recourse available to a party seeking to challenge an arbitral award is provided for in Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (the “Arbitration Act”). Section 34(2) of the Arbitration Act has undergone a few statutory amendments, and has been the subject of innumerable judgments, which highlight the contours within which a challenge to an arbitral award is available. Given that party autonomy and finality of awards are hallmarks of the arbitral process, both the Parliament as well as the judiciary have strived for minimal judicial interference with arbitral awards and arbitration proceedings. This has been done by tightening and limiting the scope and interpretation of the grounds available under Section 34(2) of the Arbitration Act.
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The Supreme Court reaffirms the scope of patent illegality

Background

The Supreme Court has, in Patel Engineering Limited v. North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited,[1] reaffirmed the scope of patent illegality, post the 2015 amendment of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“Act”), as a ground to challenge a domestic award under Section 34 of the Act.

Disputes between Patel Engineering Limited (“Patel Engineering”) and North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Limited (“NEEPCL”), arising out of works contracts for three separate packages, culminated in three arbitral awards dated March 29, 2016. One of the issues in each of the three arbitral proceedings was which clause of the conditions of contract would apply to decide the rate at which Patel Engineering was entitled to extra payment for additional quantities of lead. The arbitrator’s interpretation was in favour of Patel Engineering in all three awards. NEEPCL challenged the awards before the Additional Deputy Commissioner (Judicial), Shillong, who upheld the awards.
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SUPREME COURT’S CONTINUOUS BATTLE WITH COVID-19

I. Introduction

The last few months have been extremely unpredictable and extraordinary for the world as it continuously battles against the novel Corona virus (“Covid-19”) in all its spheres. In India, the economy has suffered a severe blow and the legal fraternity and judicial system seems to be no different due to a lack of digital infrastructure.

Recently, by an order dated May 6, 2020 (“May 06 Order”)[1], the Hon’ble Supreme Court extended all periods of limitation prescribed under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (“Arbitration Act”) and under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 (“NI Act”) w.e.f. March 15, 2020 until further orders. This order has a tremendous implication for strict timelines prescribed under these statutes. In this article, we will analyse whether the May 06 Order was necessary in light of the order dated March 23, 2020 (“March 23 Order”) passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the same proceedings[2] and thereafter, explore the implication of the same.
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