Thursday, June 16, 2011

On the Applicability of Part I- A Guest Post

Anupama Kumar, a 4th year at NLS and member of the NLS Vis team that made it to the Round of 16 at this year's competition examines the question of implied exclusion of Part I of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

S. 2(2) of the Act provides that “this Part shall apply where the place of arbitration is in India.” In Bhatia International, this was read to mean that the application of Part I to international commercial arbitration had not been excluded. Nevertheless, parties to an international commercial arbitration would be free to derogate from even the non-derogable provisions of Part I, provided that such exclusion was express or implied in the agreement.

The question that follows here is, what exactly is an implied exclusion? According to Indtel Technical Services v. W.S. Atkins, merely designating a foreign law would not amount to an implied exclusion of Part I, notwithstanding the presumption that the proper law of arbitration follows the proper law of contract in NTPC v. Singer. A similar view was taken in Citation Infowares v. Equinox Corporation. Read together, it would appear that the only way by which parties could exclude the application of Part I would be to expressly specify the proper law of arbitration in the agreement.

Indeed, this appears to be the view of the Supreme Court in Dozco India v. Doosan Infracore, where it observed the specification of a seat of arbitration in the arbitration agreement would amount to an express exclusion of Part I. While Mr. V. Niranjan has noted – and I agree with this – that the treatment of this as an express exclusion may not be correct, it is nevertheless a positive step in clarifying the law on Part I.

Furthermore, the Court distinguished Citation and Indtel on the grounds that the seat of arbitration was not specified here, but appears to make a distinction between the seat of arbitration and the law governing the arbitration agreement itself. The Court analysed the interpretation of the seat of arbitration in some depth, referring to the discussion of this by Redfern and Hunter in considerable detail. Yet, the judgment appears to turn on the latter – that the law governing the arbitration agreement was stipulated in the arbitration agreement. Does specifying the seat of arbitration therefore amount to an implied exclusion of Part I? It is submitted that Dozco leaves this question unanswered.

It next remains to be asked whether the decision in Videocon served to shed some light on the matter. The question before the Supreme Court in Videocon related to the applicability of s. 9 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act. The relevant provisions of the arbitration agreement read as follows:

33.1 Indian Law to Govern

Subject to the provisions of Article 34.12, this Contract shall be governed and interpreted in accordance with the laws of India.

33.2 Laws of India Not to be Contravened

Subject to Article 17.1 nothing in this Contract shall entitle the Contractor to exercise the rights, privileges and powers conferred upon it by this Contract in a manner which will contravene the laws of India

34.12. Venue and Law of Arbitration Agreement

The venue of sole expert, conciliation or arbitration proceedings pursuant to this Article, unless the Parties otherwise agree, shall be Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and shall be conducted in the English language. Insofar as practicable, the Parties shall continue to implement the terms of this Contract notwithstanding the initiation of arbitral proceedings and any pending claim or dispute. Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 33.1, the arbitration agreement contained in this Article 34 shall be governed by the laws of England. (Emphasis mine)

Would this amount to an implied exclusion of Part I of the Act?

The Supreme Court answered this in the affirmative, approving the view of the Gujarat High Court in Hardy Oil and Gas Limited v. Hindustan Oil Exploration Company Ltd., (2006) 1 GLR 658 that cases of international commercial arbitrations held out of India provisions of Part-I would apply unless the parties by agreement, express or implied, exclude all or any of its provisions. In that case laws or rules chosen by the parties would prevail. Any provision, in Part-I, which is contrary to or excluded by that law or rules would not apply. Thus ... if the parties have agreed to be governed by any law other than Indian law in cases of international commercial arbitration, same would prevail. In the case on hand, it is very clear... that the parties' intention was to be governed by English law in respect of arbitration. ... It can be interpreted only to mean that in case of any dispute regarding arbitration, English law would apply. When the clause deals with the place and language of arbitration with a specific provision that the law governing arbitration will be the English law, such a narrow meaning cannot be given. (Emphasis mine)

It is my submission, that Hardy Oil does not apply in the circumstances. The curial law in Hardy Oil was English law.

But in Videocon, English law was the law governing the arbitration agreement, and not the arbitration itself, as pointed out here. The implication of this is that, where a foreign law governing the arbitration agreement is provided for, Part I of the Act is excluded. It is submitted, with respect, that this conclusion would be incorrect – the law governing the arbitration agreement is distinct from the curial law.

Where does that leave us? One may argue that, as per Dozco, the curial law is presumed to be that of the seat of arbitration chosen by the parties, and that in facts such as those in Videocon, the specification of a seat of arbitration would in turn amount to an implied exclusion of Part I. However, this would not be a correct reading of Dozco, nor indeed, is it the implication of Videocon. One may also argue that the law in Videocon is clear enough – that the parties must specify a foreign law of arbitration for Part I to be excluded, and the judgment simply overlooked the wording of the arbitration clause. This conclusion isn’t a particularly comfortable one, however, it leads to a far less absurd result.

So when is Part I excluded, and what amounts to implied exclusion? The answer remains as hazy as ever. It is submitted that a close reading of Videocon leads us to the same result, and that the decision itself is the result of incorrect reading of facts. We are therefore left where we started- if Part I of the Act is to be excluded, a foreign law of arbitration mus be specified n the arbitration agreement.

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