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When French arbitration law was reformed in 2011, one major innovation was to amend the position on the stay of enforcement of international arbitral awards pending the outcome of annulment proceedings or of an appeal against an order granting leave to enforce (exequatur). However, the courts' severity towards requests for a stay of execution has given rise to concerns about exequatur proceedings.
According to the French law on international arbitration, an action to set aside is available against international arbitral awards issued in France. Therefore, such an action may be instituted only against arbitral awards. The distinction between arbitral awards and other communications issued by tribunals can be unclear; however, a decision of the Supreme Court provides useful guidance.
The interaction between insolvency proceedings and arbitration is treated differently in different countries. The French legal position is clear: the supervening insolvency of a party does not render a dispute inarbitrable. In a recent decision the Paris Court of Appeal found that the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce had committed an "excessive measure" justifying the annulment of an award.
In a recent case the Supreme Court reaffirmed the existence of an arbitral legal order, independent of any national legal order. It held that the arbitral proceedings in question were detached from the French judicial order, since the tribunal's seat was located in Sweden and proceedings were governed by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law rules.
Since March 2010 the ordinary French courts have been able to challenge the constitutionality of a statute or statutory provision through a specific procedure. However, the reform was silent on the issue of whether arbitral tribunals enjoy similar rights to ask the Supreme Court to refer a matter to the Constitutional Council. In a recent decision, the Supreme Court found no basis for such rights to be allowed to arbitrators.
It is a truism that relativity applies in arbitration. An award can be set aside by the courts of the English seat of arbitration and yet be declared enforceable in France. The conflicting decisions issued by the Paris Court of Appeal and the UK Supreme Court in Dallah illustrate that an arbitral award can have a different fate depending on the approach of the courts of the seat of arbitration and the courts of the places where enforcement is sought.