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. 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.