UK Supreme Court clarifies scope of an appeal under the Arbitration Act

The UK Supreme Court’s decision in Sharp Corp Ltd v Viterra BV [2024] UKSC 14, has clarified the scope of, and limitations to, an appeal of law under section 69 of the English Arbitration Act 1996.

In the earlier Court of Appeal decision the Court had made findings of fact additional to those made by the original Tribunal. These related to a finding that one of the contracts in question had been varied. Further, the Court of Appeal had decided a question of law which had not been put to the Tribunal.

On the second point, the Supreme Court swiftly concluded that a valid appeal requires that “the point has to [have been] fairly and squarely before the arbitration tribunal for determination“. If the issue had not been before the Tribunal in this way the proceedings cannot properly be an “appeal” on that point.

On the question of whether a court hearing an appeal has the authority to make findings of fact, this point was also dealt with quickly by the Supreme Court at [71]:

The court’s jurisdiction under section 69 of the Act is limited to appeals on questions of law. It has no jurisdiction in relation to errors of fact and no power to make its own findings of fact“.

The decision is a clear statement of the limits of an appeal under section 69 of the Arbitration Act and serves as helpful guidance.

The first ever summary dismissal of ICSID annulment grounds for being “manifestly without legal merit”

On 2 February 2024, the ICSID ad hoc Annulment Committee in Nachingwea and others v. Tanzania, ICSID Case No. ARB/20/38 (the “Nachingwea Committee”) issued a Decision dismissing much of Tanzania’s annulment application, having found those parts to be “manifestly without legal merit”.

Issued ten years after the first consideration by an ad hoc Annulment Committee of Rule 41(5) objections to an annulment application,[1] the Nachingwea Committee’s Decision is the first to grant a Rule 41(5) preliminary objection.[2]

Rule 41(5) provides an expedited procedure for the disposal of claims which are manifestly without legal merit at an early stage of proceedings.[3] It is available in ICSID arbitration proceedings, as well as mutatis mutandis in Chapter VII proceedings,[4] including annulment proceedings.[5] Continue reading “The first ever summary dismissal of ICSID annulment grounds for being “manifestly without legal merit””

When does a contract waive a state’s immunity from enforcement?

The decision in General Dynamics (UK) Ltd v State of Libya [2024] EWHC 472 (Comm), turned on whether the sentence “Both parties agree that the decision of the arbitration panel shall be final, binding and wholly enforceable.”, did or did not operate to waive the State of Libya’s immunity from enforcement in accordance with the UK’s State Immunity Act 1978.

The contract was governed by Swiss Law, but the principles of contractual construction under Swiss law were not in dispute. Also not disputed was the fact that no particular form of words are required for a state to waive a part of its immunity.

Continue reading “When does a contract waive a state’s immunity from enforcement?”

New Code of Conduct for arbitrators in investment arbitration

The UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) has approved a Code of Conduct for arbitrators in international investment arbitration (available here). The Code is intended to apply to members of an ICSID arbitral tribunal or ad hoc committee, and to candidates for such roles, and also to apply to other investor-state arbitrations. The precise mechanics by which this will be achieved is unclear, and the commentary to the Code suggests that it may come to be incorporated into the UNCITRAL Arbitral Rules. Parties are free to agree that the Code should apply in their arbitrations and it is likely that this will become common.

The Code of Conduct is a mixture of codifying existing best practice, such as a prohibition on ex parte communications outside the remit of an initial appointment, and a requirement for independence and impartiality.

The Code also, however, contains a number of far-reaching new rules, in relation to so-called “double-hatting” where the same person acts as both arbitrator and party-appointed counsel in relation to the same actions by particular states or the same treaty provisions; in relation to the a requirement to maintain an arbitration’s confidentiality; and requirements for arbitrator disclosure.

Continue reading “New Code of Conduct for arbitrators in investment arbitration”

Supreme Court Rules on When RICO Standing Exists to Protect Domesticated International Arbitration Awards

The federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) and international arbitration are strange bedfellows at first glance. But one of the largest challenges in international disputes can be enforcing judgments, and RICO can be a powerful tool to guard against illegal conduct designed to hinder the enforcement of judgments giving effect to international arbitration awards.

On June 22nd, the Supreme Court issued its Opinion in Yegiazaryan v. Smagin and CMB Monaco v. Smagin, consolidated cases that questioned whether a foreign individual could sue for RICO violations impairing his ability to recover on a domestic judgment enforcing a foreign arbitration award. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the injury alleged—interference with a federal court judgment—was “domestic in nature” and therefore conferred standing to bring a RICO claim under RJR Nabisco Inc. v. Eur. Cmty., 579 U.S. 325 (2016).

The Court’s decision resolves a circuit split regarding how to determine the location of injury associated with a judgment enforcing an arbitration award for purposes of RICO. In Armada (Singapore) PTE Ltd. v. Amcol Int’l Corp., 885 F.3d 1090 (7th Cir. 2018), the Seventh Circuit adopted what has come to be known as the “residency test,” concluding that an injury to intangible property occurs solely at the plaintiff’s place of residence. Applying that standard, the Court concluded that a Singapore company could not bring a RICO claim based on injuries to its ability to enforce a domestic judgment enforcing an arbitration award, because any harm to the plaintiff’s “intangible bundle of litigation rights” was suffered in Singapore and therefore was not a domestic injury conferring standing to bring a RICO claim.

The Ninth Circuit, in Smagin v. Yeglazaryan, 37 F.4th 562 (9th Cir. 2022), reached a different conclusion, deciding that efforts to impair a judgment to enforce a foreign arbitration award entered by a federal district court constituted an injury in the state where the Court was located. The Ninth Circuit reasoned that the federal judgment to enforce the award only provided rights within California and did not provide any rights in the plaintiff’s place of residence, and further noted that much of the conduct underlying the alleged injury occurred in or was targeted at California.

The Supreme Court’s decision affirms the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning, concluding that “in assessing whether there is a domestic injury, courts should engage in a case-specific analysis that looks to the circumstances surrounding the injury. If those circumstances sufficiently ground the injury in the United States, such that it is clear the injury arose domestically, then the plaintiff has alleged a domestic injury.” In applying that analysis, the Court noted that many of the racketeering acts alleged (including creation of shell companies to hide assets, submission of forged documents to a federal court, and witness intimidation) occurred in the United States and that the injurious effects of the racketeering activity largely manifested in California, where they thwarted rights conferred in California by a District Court judgment.

Although this decision does not establish a bright-line rule, it provides a clear roadmap for determining when conduct intended to prevent the domestic enforcement of an international arbitration award establishes standing to bring a RICO claim. The articulation of this standard and resolution of the circuit split will provide a powerful tool to litigants seeking to enforce international arbitration awards domestically. 

Eleventh Circuit Expands Standards for Vacatur of International Arbitration Awards

On April 13, 2023, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit overturned decades of precedent in determining the grounds that can be asserted to vacate an arbitral award governed by the New York Convention (the “Convention”)[1]. The Eleventh Circuit in Corporación AIC v. Hidroelectrica Santa Rita, sitting en banc, held that in a case under the Convention where the United States is the governing jurisdiction, the grounds for vacatur of a domestic award are set out in domestic law, currently Chapter 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act[2] (“FAA”).[3] In doing so, the Eleventh Circuit overruled the two prior controlling cases on the issue and settled a circuit split, realigning their opinions with that of its sister circuits. This decision—which expands the grounds for challenging arbitration awards beyond those provided in the Convention—could have significant implications on parties choosing the Eleventh Circuit as the seat of arbitration moving forward.

Continue reading “Eleventh Circuit Expands Standards for Vacatur of International Arbitration Awards”

The Impact of Sanctions on International Arbitrations

One of the most important issues facing the parties (or potential parties) to an international arbitration is whether an award will ultimately be enforceable against opposing parties and their assets. The Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “Convention”), usually provides the most direct means to enforce an award. And, as a general rule, the Convention’s application makes enforcement of International Arbitral awards a more straight forward process than judgments from foreign courts. But, parties must remain aware of and consider the limited defenses or obstacles to enforcement that still exist under the Convention, including where enforcement of an award would be contrary to public policy. This “public policy exception” is particularly relevant when issues of international sanctions are involved.

Russian Court Ruling Impact on International Arbitrations

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, dozens of countries, including the United States, introduced or greatly expanded sanctions against Russia, the Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as high-powered Russian government officials and other influential Russian interests. These sanctions have been extensive, going so far as to prevent Russian banks from using the SWIFT international payment system.

The Russian government responded to these sanctions, in part with the introduction of Federal Law No. 171-FZ, which provides Russian parties to an international arbitration (who are also the subject of Russian sanctions) the opportunity to apply to a Russian court for an injunction prohibiting foreign claimants from continuing the arbitration and receiving an award. The Russian court can also award the sanctioned individual a sum of money that equals the sum of the international award against the sanctioned person thereby eliminating the award against the sanctioned person. Continue reading “The Impact of Sanctions on International Arbitrations”

The Benefits of International Arbitration

Arbitration is quickly emerging as one of the preferred methods for dispute resolution in the United States. The pros and cons of domestic arbitration are well known, and at times hotly contested. While many of the same arguments apply to international arbitration, in the context of cross-border business transactions, international arbitration can provide the neutrality, predictability, enforceability, and efficiency that is critical to achieving a just outcome.

Neutral Site and Predictability
International Arbitration provides a neutral forum for dispute resolution, thereby avoiding even the perceptions of ‘home court advantage’ that often times complicate selection of domestic courts. Often times, a dispute that crosses international boundaries is potentially subject to jurisdiction in more than one country. Parties may have concerns about navigating unfamiliar legal terrain or bias in another party’s home jurisdiction. Under traditional litigation, usually one party gets to decide where, and under what laws, the litigation will be resolved. Even if parties agree to a forum selection and choice of law clauses ahead of time, inevitably one party is likely to be disadvantaged by local procedures and/precedents in the chosen venue. While these advantages and disadvantages are part of general litigation strategy, they are often barriers to fair and effective dispute resolution.

International arbitration provides parties the opportunity to choose where the arbitration will take place, what laws will apply, and even the makeup and nationalities of the arbitrators. From there, parties will know what to expect in term of pleading rules, discovery procedures, and the types of damages and other remedies that are available. Most importantly, both parties will be given the same set of circumstances to arbitrate under, without substantial advantages given to either party. International arbitration allows disputes to be decided on the merits without influence from potentially biased judiciaries, disadvantageous procedural technicalities, and other issues that muddy the waters in traditional litigation.

In addition to providing an opportunity for neutrality that is not always available through traditional litigation, international arbitrations provide invaluable predictability to both parties. One of the biggest issues that arises in international litigation is the uncertainty that comes with navigating a foreign judicial system. Rules and procedures governing what claims may be brought, the discovery process, the trial itself, and remedies vary widely across jurisdictions. When parties agree to arbitrate an international dispute, they have the opportunity to create certainty and predictability in how the dispute will be resolved. The location of the arbitration and the rules governing the arbitration will be agreed upon prior to the dispute arising. The parties will have an opportunity to assemble an agreed-upon panel of fair minded individuals with alleviates the fear of being subject to the whims of a foreign judicial system. Parties in international arbitration have much more control over the length of the process without having to worry about a backlogged court-docket and other procedural delays that often cause traditional litigation to go on for years. Overall, international arbitrations provide parties with the resources to maintain control over their own disputes in many ways that traditional litigation does not.

An Increased Likelihood that Judgments are Enforceable
The Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Award (otherwise known as the “New York Convention) provides a straightforward mechanism for enforcement of international arbitral awards. Over 150 countries have ratified the Convention and it provides a guarantee a mechanism that allows, and encourages, courts within the various signatory countries to enforce an international arbitration clause and award. This level of comity provides a significant benefit over the difficulties faced when seeking to enforce a foreign-court judgment. For example, a judgment from a United States court is not automatically enforceable in other countries – even those with similar legal traditions. A claimant may have to go through a second series of expensive and time-consuming litigation just to prove that the judgment should be enforceable in the foreign jurisdiction. An award secured in international arbitration however, provides more security to the prevailing party that they will be able to recover their award no matter where they need to enforce the judgment.

Pick the Panel
When parties decide to resolve their dispute through international arbitration, one of the key benefits is the ability to appoint arbitrators with relevant expertise. This removes a lot of the variability seen when presenting cases before judges and juries who may not be well-versed in the subject matter of the dispute. The presence of subject matter experts on the tribunal usually provides assurance to the parties that their claims are being adjudicated properly and fairly and reduces the need for appeals based on incorrect findings.

Affordability and Efficiency
While the affordability and efficiency of arbitration versus domestic litigation can be hotly contested, many of the rules and forums common to International Arbitration provide at least the possibility for significant cost and time benefits. When viewed in contrast with the American legal tradition, this is particularly so given the lack of expensive pre-trial discovery and post-trial appeals that are prevalent in many US jurisdictions and which may prolong a case for years. Under an arbitration agreement, parties are encouraged to move through the process quickly with a panel of arbitrators dedicated to their case. For example, the International Chamber of Commerce Rules of Arbitration offer an expedited procedure in cases where the amount in dispute does not exceed $2 million. This is meant to streamline the arbitration process and keep costs low. Unfortunately, in traditional litigation, there is not a similar mechanism in the United States or other jurisdictions. After an arbitration has ended and the tribunal has issued a final award, that dispute is usually over. Challenges to arbitral awards are also generally more limited than domestic court judgments. In addition, parties in international arbitration proceedings are often awarded reimbursement of their attorneys’ fees and other arbitration costs which has the potential to make arbitration an even more affordable option.

Resolving an international dispute does not have to be a lengthy, confusing, or expensive endeavor. Parties engaged in international business transactions should consider that agreeing to arbitrate can keep costs manageable while moving the dispute along efficiently with fairness and predictability.

Cross-Border Disputes in the Cannabis Industry & International Arbitration

As continued legalization of cannabis across jurisdictions in the U.S. and foreign countries causes the industry to become increasingly lucrative, determining proper avenues for dispute resolution controlling underlying agreements and investments has become a critical consideration for business-owners and foreign investors alike. Foreign investment in businesses involving cannabis is subject to a complex web of oversight that could include any combination of local and foreign laws, agreements, regulations, and practices. Many foreign investors in the cannabis industry have turned to international arbitration as a method for navigating these complexities and resolving disputes that may arise from such investments and business relationships. This post explores high-level considerations for foreign investors in the cannabis industry when assessing the viability of arbitration as a means for dispute resolution.

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UK Government announces intention to sign and ratify the Singapore Convention on Mediation

On 2 March 2023, the Ministry of Justice published the UK Government’s response (“Consultation Response”) to the consultation on the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (New York, 2019) (the “Singapore Convention on Mediation”, or the “Convention”) concluding that “it is the right time for the UK to become a Party”.

In some measure, the Singapore Convention on Mediation seeks to replicate the success of the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention”). Continue reading “UK Government announces intention to sign and ratify the Singapore Convention on Mediation”

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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