Thursday, October 20, 2011

Supreme Court of India on Joinder in Arbitration.

The Supreme Court (SC) of India has given an excellent example of its maturity to deal with complex arbitration matters. In the case of P.R Shah, Shares & Stock Broker (P) Ltd. (“Appellant”) V M/s. B.H.H Securities (P) Ltd. & Ors (“Respondent”) the SC has dealt with the issue of joinder in very straight forward terms. The SC held that a joinder is possible when facts and circumstances require so, more so when the claimant has arbitration agreements with both the other parties, the claims against them cannot be separated and when the party being joined is so inextricably linked to the other party in its function and management. The Judgement of the case is available here. It was decided by SC on 14 Octoer, 2011.

Relevant Facts:
The Appellant and the Respondent, both were members of the Bombay Stock Exchange (“Exchange”). The Respondent raised and referred a dispute against the Appellant and one another party (the Other Party) under the Rules, Bye-Laws and Regulations of the Exchange seeking an award. In the arbitration reference, the Respondent alleged that Appellant and the Other Party were sister concerns with a Common Director and that the Director of the Appellant approached the Respondent for a transaction on behalf of the Other Party. In respect of the transaction the Respondent issued and delivered the contract and bill in favour of the Other Party. When the amount was due towards the Other Party the Appellant issued a Credit Slip in favour of the Respondent. The said Credit Slip was rejected by the Exchange and so the Respondent approached the Appellant and the Other Party for a cheque for the said amount. The Appellant issued a cheque accordingly on behalf of the Other Party for a lesser amount though. Further, to settle the amount, the Director asked the Respondent to issue all the bills in the name of the Other Party. The Director accepted the Bills assuring payment and that both the Appellant and the Other Company were jointly and severally liable to pay the amounts due.

After several attempts by the Respondent when the money still remained due, the Executive Director of the Exchange permitted the Respondent to file arbitration claim against both the Appellant and the Other Party. Both the Appellant and the Other Party filed objections which had several common grounds with identical wordings. The Appellant denied that the transaction was done for the Other Party and contended that arbitration reference was bad in law on account of misjoinder of parties and misjoinder of causes of action. It was submitted by the Appellant that while it was a member of Exchange, the Other Party was not and hence different set of Arbitration Rules would govern each arbitration. The Dispute was heard by three member Arbitral Tribunal consisting of Justice D.B Deshpande, Mr.Hemant V. Shah and Mr. Sharad Dalal.

While the majority view of the tribunal was that both the Appellant and the Other Party (both were respondents in the arbitration proceedings) were liable for the amounts claimed, the minority view which was of Justice Deshpande who in spite of agreeing with the other two was of the opinion that the Tribunal as appointed by the Exchange had no jurisdiction to hear Respondent’s claim against the Appellant. The award was made as per the majority view that the Other Party shall pay the Respondent and in case of failure the Appellant shall do that. The Other Party neither contested the award nor paid the amount. The Appellant on the other hand filed an application under Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 (the Act) challenging the award.

Single Judge Bombay High Court (HC) Bench:
The application was dismissed by the HC. The HC upon a contention placed by the Appellant held that if in a dispute between a member and non-member an identical or connected claim against another claim cannot be referred for a common arbitration and the Claimant is compelled to resort to two proceedings before different fora, then there is a possibility of multiplicity of findings at variance with each other.

Intra Court Appeal by Division Bench:

The Division Bench too dismissed the appeal filed by the Appellant.

Appeal by Special Leave to SC:
Three contentions were raised:
I. A single arbitration is not possible against both the parties because while one is a member of the Exchange, the other is not and both have different bylaws governing the arbitration.
II. The Arbitral Tribunal should have held that there was no contract between the Respondent and the Appelant.
III. The tribunal has passed the award by using their personal knowledge and not on the basis of record placed before them.
On the first contention, the SC held that it should be noticed that the arbitration was an institutional arbitration under the Exchange and not an adhoc arbitration. “As the Exchange has permitted a single arbitration against both, there could be no impediment for single arbitration.” Giving an example court held:
“If A had a claim against B and C, and there was an arbitration agreement between A and B but there was no arbitration agreement between A and C, it might not be possible to have a joint arbitration against B and C. A cannot make a claim against C in an arbitration against B, on the ground that the claim was being made jointly against B and C, as C was not a party to the arbitration agreement. But if A had a claim against B and C and if A had an arbitration agreement with B and A also had a separate arbitration agreement with C, there is no reason why A cannot have a joint arbitration against B & C. Obviously, having an arbitration between A and B and another arbitration between A and C in regard to the same claim would lead to conflicting decisions. In such a case, to deny the benefit of a single arbitration against B and C on the ground that the arbitration agreements against B and C are different, would lead to multiplicity of proceedings, conflicting decisions and cause injustice. It would be proper and just to say that when A has a claim jointly against B and C, and when there are provisions for arbitration in respect of both B and C, there can be a single arbitration.”
On second contention, the SC stated that it cannot sit in appeal over the award of an arbitral tribunal by re-assessing or re-appreciating the evidence.
On the last contention, the court held that:
“An arbitral tribunal cannot of course make use of their personal knowledge of the facts of the dispute, which is not a part of the record, to decide the dispute. But an arbitral tribunal can certainly use their expert or technical knowledge or the general knowledge about the particular trade, in deciding a matter. In fact, that is why in many arbitrations, persons with technical knowledge, are appointed as they will be well-versed with the practices and customs in the respective fields. All that the arbitrators have referred is the market practice. That cannot be considered as using some personal knowledge of facts of a transaction, to decide a dispute.”
Thus, the SC dismissed the appeal.


This judgment is a welcome decision by the SC given with a very simple and crisp rational. This case also shows the benefit of an institutional arbitration which can be useful to overcome issues which might be problematic in adhoc arbitrations.
With regard to complex issues regarding multi-party arbitration and multi-contract arbitration involving issues of joinder, the New ICC Rules of Arbitration which come into effect from January 2012 are worth having a look at. I shall soon be posting about the New ICC Arbitration Rules, the Asia launch of which I had a chance to attend in Singapore.

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