Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996

Applicability of the 2015 Amendments to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act

We have previously dealt with the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of BCCI v. Kochi[1] (see here and here) as well as the 2015 Amendments[2] to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (Act) and thereafter the 2019 Amendments[3] to the Act. Briefly recapped, the BCCI case read Section 26 to mean that the 2015 Amendments as a whole were to apply prospectively (meaning thereby that they would apply to arbitral proceedings commencing after October 23, 2015). However, as far as Section 36 (enforcement of a domestic award) of the principal Act was concerned, the 2015 Amendments applied retrospectively since the right to an “automatic stay” under Section 36 was not a vested one.

This meant that both in pending Section 34 petitions (filed prior to October 23, 2015) and in fresh Section 34 petitions, there would be no automatic stay of an award unless a separate application was made for such a stay, which the Court would have the discretion to grant or refuse and would also be premised on the posting of security.
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Good Faith Negotiations and Mediation 

It has become increasingly common for parties to adopt multi-tiered dispute resolution clauses in agreements. A typical multi-tiered dispute-resolution clause requires parties to first attempt to resolve a dispute amicably – for instance, by engaging in friendly discussions, submitting to mediation or undertaking good faith negotiations – before the commencement of arbitration proceedings. There has been much ado about the enforceability of such clauses and whether they should be considered void due to vagueness: how does one engage in “friendly discussions”, and what exactly are “good faith negotiations”, when a presumably acrimonious dispute has already arisen between parties?

Despite this ambiguity, courts have increasingly found tiered dispute-resolution clauses to be enforceable. In fact, with a view to combat rising pendency in courts, these principles have been extended to the initiation of litigation as well. The Commercial Courts Act, 2015 (CCA) was amended last year to state that any suit that does not contemplate urgent interim relief cannot be instituted without the plaintiff having exhausted the remedy of pre-institution mediation and settlement.[1] A similar model is also followed in a number of other countries, including the UK, Italy, Greece and Turkey, where it has been successful in encouraging dispute resolution through mediation.[2]
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Arbitrator Fees in India

The Law Commission of India, in its 246th report, noted that one of the problems associated with arbitration in India (especially ad hoc arbitrations) is the high quantum of fees charged by arbitrators.[1] The Report went so far as to call the fees “arbitrary, unilateral and disproportionate”. The Commission recommended the adoption of a model schedule of fees for Courts to consider while framing rules for fixing of the fees of arbitrators appointed in accordance with Section 11 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (the Act). The Commission restricted its suggestions to ad hoc domestic arbitrations, noting that different standards may apply in institutional arbitrations and in international commercial arbitrations (where the Commission recommended greater deference to party autonomy).
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Bombay High Court’s New Rules on Arbitral Tribunal Fees

The provisions for appointment of an arbitrator, under Section 11 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (Act), underwent a sea change with the 2015 amendments. A notable amendment was in relation to setting fees for arbitrators appointed by a court under the Act, for the purpose of which, the new Section 11 (14) and Fourth Schedule were introduced.

Under these provisions and for the purpose of determination of the fees of the arbitral tribunal and the manner of their payment, the High Court was empowered to frame such rules as may be necessary, after taking into consideration the rates specified in the Fourth Schedule.

Years after the amendments kicked in (on and from October 23, 2015), the Bombay High Court issued the Bombay High Court (Fee Payable to Arbitrators) Rules, 2018, pursuant to Section 11 (14) and the Fourth Schedule (the Rules).[1]
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The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 (2015 Amendment) came into force with effect from October 23, 2015. Although this amendment was enacted to remove controversies and iron out wrinkles in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, (Parent Act), it has in fact, given rise to its own set of controversies. One of the burning issues was the applicability of the 2015 Amendment. Section 26 of the 2015 Amendment provides for its applicability, and reads as follows:

  1. Nothing contained in this Act shall apply to the arbitral proceedings commenced, in accordance with the provisions of Section 21 of the principal Act, before the commencement of this Act unless the parties otherwise agree but this Act shall apply in relation to arbitral proceedings commenced on or after the date of commencement of this Act.

One would believe that the above provision would have settled any issue of applicability of the 2015 Amendment. It has instead given rise to more litigation,[i] which has now been partially addressed by the Supreme Court.[ii]

The controversy in all the litigation that came up before the High Courts, and which also saw conflicting points of view, was around the applicability of the amended Section 36 of the Parent Act. In the pre-amendment era, when an award debtor challenged an award under Section 34, the award creditor was prevented from enforcing the award until a determination had been made by a court on the challenge, because of an ‘automatic stay’ on the operation of the award.

In order to overcome this, and for the benefit of award creditors, Section 36 of the Parent Act, was amended to do away with this ‘automatic stay’. It required the challenging party to separately apply for a stay and also required the court to direct the award debtor to deposit the award amount, so as to avoid frivolous challenges. The question for the courts has been the applicability of the amended Section 36 to Section 34 applications that were filed before and after the 2015 Amendment came into force.


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