Enforcement of Foreign Seated Emergency Arbitration Award in India: Unboxing the Pandora’s Box

By Prerna Mayea, fifth-year student at Institute of Law, Nirma University

I. Introduction

Emergency arbitration has been a buzzword in the last few years in India since the ruling in Amazon.com NV Investment Holdings LLC v. Future Retail Ltd. The Supreme Court of India held that Emergency Award (‘EA’) in India-seated arbitration can be enforced under Section 17(2) of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act (‘the Act’). This is certainly a big step for creating a pro-arbitration environment in the country. However, this case did not provide authority for the issue that EA in foreign seated arbitration is enforceable in India. This is because Section 17 cannot be relied upon to enforce the EA since Part I of the Act does not apply to foreign seated arbitration.

II. Judicial Stance On Enforcement Of Foreign Seated EA In India

The matter regarding enforcement of EA in foreign seated arbitration firstly came before the Delhi High Court in Mr. Ashwani Minda & Anr. V. U-Shin Ltd. & Anr. In this case, the applicant tried to avail the remedy of EA in foreign seated arbitration which was denied to him. Subsequently, the applicant tried to seek interim relief under Section 9 of the Act, which was denied by the court on two premises:

  1. The dispute resolution clause in the agreement excluded the applicability of Section 9.
  2. The applicant had already failed before the emergency arbitrator, and there were no changes in the circumstances.

The court cited the continuing mandate of the emergency arbitrator to deny the relief under section 9. This suggests that the court considered EA in a foreign seated arbitration as an effective remedy to disallow relief under Section 9.

In HSBC PI Holdings Ltd. v. Avitel Post Studioz Ltd and Ors., even though the court did not enforce the EA directly, it granted relief under Section 9 of the Act to the party by reproducing the EA verbatim. This suggests an alternate mode of enforcement of the EA by obtaining similar interim reliefs under Section 9. However, this might not be an efficacious remedy since it would require re-adjudication by the court leading to duplication of proceedings and wastage of time.

In Raffles Design International India Pvt. Ltd. v. Educomp Professional Education Ltd., the court denied enforcement of EA in foreign seated arbitration citing a lack of authority, and insisted on filing a fresh application under Section 9 of the Act. The court however also added that a party cannot be denied interim relief simply because a similar relief has been obtained through EA. Further, the decision to grant the relief will be independent of the interim order in foreign seated arbitration.

III. Enforcement Of Foreign Seated EA Under The Act

  • Section 44 and 48 – Enforcing as foreign award

Arbitral award has been defined under Section 2(1)(c) to include an interim award. However, this definition under Part I of the Act cannot be applied in the case of foreign seated arbitration. Section 44 of the Act does not define ‘arbitral award’. However, Section 44(a) applies to arbitral awards arising out of arbitration to which the New York Convention (‘NY Convention’) applies.

Under the NY Convention, Article 1(2) defines ‘arbitral award’ to “include not only awards made by arbitrators appointed for each case but also those made by permanent arbitral bodies to which the parties have submitted.” This definition is inclusive and wide enough to encompass emergency award made by the arbitrator. It must be noted that emergency arbitrators are appointed by arbitral tribunals and thus such award must be considered to be made by arbitral institutions only and subsequently be included under the definition of an arbitral award. For example, Schedule 1(3) of the SIAC Rules, 2016 states that emergency arbitrator shall be appointed by the president of the institution upon the filing of an application by parties.

Further, Article 3 and Article 5(1)(e) of the NY Convention have been interpreted to consider ‘binding effect’ and ‘finality’ as prerequisites for enforcing an award under the NY Convention. This has raised concerns regarding the non-finality of EA as it can be overridden by arbitral tribunal after its constitution. In Yahoo! Inc v. Microsoft Corporation, the US court observed that the emergency arbitrator’s order was final in nature. It reasoned that while deciding to grant a specific interim measure, the emergency arbitrator duly considered all necessary information to resolve the merits of that request. Further, urgent interim reliefs provided in EA have been considered as ‘final’ across several jurisdictions such as Germany and Egypt. Since EA provides a definitive ruling regarding the interim measure, the ‘finality’ requirement under NY Convention must be expansively articulated to include interim measures granted in EA.

This leads to the conclusion that EA falls within the scope of Section 44 and can be subsequently enforced under Section 48 of the Act.

  • Section 27 (5)- Contempt of Court

Section 27(5) gives the power to the arbitral tribunal to punish for its contempt. The punishment is alike the offences in suits tried before the court. It is a reprimanding and novel provision that does not trace itself from UNCITRAL Model Law.

In Alka Chandewar v. Shamshul Ishar Khan, the Supreme Court has ruled that in case any party fails to comply with orders of the arbitral tribunal, this act will be considered to be contempt of court. The aggrieved party can seek relief under Section 27(5) by making representation to the court. The court will be competent to deal with the matter under the provisions of Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, or under Order 39 Rule 2A of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.

After the amendment in 2015, Section 27 is also applicable to Part II of the Act. Thus, Section 27 (5) can be used to ensure the enforcement of EA in foreign seated arbitrations as well. This line of reasoning was raised and rejected in Raffles case. The court reasoned that a person in contempt of interim order passed by tribunal in foreign seated arbitration cannot be punished by Indian courts. This reasoning by the court seems to be flawed to the extent that the party or its assets would be located in India and therefore would be within the jurisdiction of Indian courts, which would have power, even at the instance of a foreign seated arbitral tribunal.

IV. International Perspective

Various commercial jurisdictions such as Singapore and Hong Kong have a legislative framework that provide more certainty in enforcement of foreign seated Emergency arbitration award. For instance, in Hong Kong, Section 61 of the Arbitration Ordinance, 2011 requires to obtain the leave of the High Court to enforce interim measures granted by foreign tribunals. The party seeking enforcement needs to substantiate that the order falls within the description of an order or direction that may be made by an arbitral tribunal seated in Hong Kong. This mechanism has also been extended to emergency arbitration under Part 3A of the Arbitration (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013.

In Singapore, the International Arbitration Act, 1994 (IAA) includes emergency arbitrator within the definition of ‘arbitral tribunal’. Recently, the Singapore High Court in CVG v. CVH has also ruled that ‘foreign awards’ under the IAA would also include foreign interim awards made by an emergency arbitrator, thus allowing for enforcement of foreign seated EA. Further IAA also provides for grounds refusing recognition of EA including breach of rules of natural justice and exceeding the jurisdiction of emergency arbitrator. 

V. Framework For India

It is evident that countries are moving towards an arbitration-friendly approach in terms of enforcement of foreign seated EA and interim measures while also providing for safeguards to honor their national public policy. The most effective legislative solution for India is to incorporate in the Act a provision similar to Section 17H of the Model Law, which provides for recognition and enforcement of interim measures by arbitral tribunals irrespective of the country of issuance. Such enforcement must also be paired with appropriate safeguards such as:

  1. Vesting of power to in the court where enforcement is sought, to order for provision of adequate security from requesting party.
  2. Specify grounds for recognition and enforcement of interim measures keeping in mind the public policy of India.

Such safeguards will help to maintain a balance between party autonomy and public policy of India. It will also make the enforcement of EA faster and easier. Parties must also be cautious while drafting the arbitration clause to ensure that it does not exclude the applicability of Section 9 of the Act. Courts adhere to predetermined procedures when deciding on interim measures. EA, on the other hand, can provide such relief in a more expedient and confidential manner, saving both money and time. Justice Srikrishna Committee Report (2017) and the 246th Law Commission Report have also suggested including emergency arbitrators within the definition of ‘arbitral tribunal’. However, given the existing position of Indian courts refusing to enforce EAs, parties should exercise extreme caution when relying on emergency arbitral awards obtained in a foreign jurisdiction to defend their rights in an emergency

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