Parties' ability to choose their arbitrators remains one of the most frequently mentioned advantages of arbitration over litigation. However, this freedom makes sense only if it preserves the overarching duties of arbitrators and judges alike – that is, the duty to be and remain independent and impartial from the parties.
The Paris Court of Appeal recently set aside an award on the grounds of a violation of the principle of equality of arms. The court had to rule on the Iraq war's impact on due process in arbitral proceedings between the Republic of Iraq and two German companies. This decision comes as a reminder that arbitration is a jurisdictional process where parties and arbitrators, while enjoying considerable freedom and flexibility, should be mindful of due process and fair trial guarantees.
The French courts recently supported the rigorous application of the principle of procedural estoppel and reiterated their commitment to the enforcement of agreements that govern arbitral proceedings. The principle prevents parties from relying on alleged irregularities that affect arbitration proceedings before the French courts if the requesting party has not initially raised them before the arbitral tribunal.
A recent Supreme Court decision confirms French law's strict approach in matters involving arbitrators' independence and impartiality. The court found that despite an arbitrator's previous disclosure that his firm had had an inactive relationship with the parent company of one of the parties to the arbitration, his later failure to disclose that this relationship had resumed created reasonable doubt as to his independence and impartiality.
The jurisdictional duality which characterises the French legal system triggers practical difficulties in international arbitrations, especially when they involve the recognition and enforcement in France of arbitral awards relating to issues of French administrative law. The Cour de Cassation recently decided on this issue, holding that civil courts have jurisdiction to rule on the recognition and enforcement of any foreign arbitral award.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that a Dutch court may enforce an annulled arbitral award if, among other things, the local annulment decision is based on grounds other than those set out in Article V(1)(a)-(d) of the New York Convention and which are not internationally recognised, or the annulment decision is irreconcilable with Dutch private international law. This judgment offers important guidance as to the Dutch courts' discretion to enforce annulled awards.
The Amsterdam Court of Appeals recently ruled that the Russian liquidation order regarding OAO Yukos Oil Company is contrary to Dutch public order and therefore null and void. An interesting question is whether the judgment will have a bearing in the appeal of the annulment proceedings concerning the $50 billion Energy Charter Treaty arbitration case between former Yukos shareholders and Russia, which is pending before The Hague Court of Appeal.
The Amsterdam Court of Appeals recently annulled a 2013 Amsterdam District Court decision to set aside a $450 million arbitral award in proceedings between watchmaker Swatch and jeweller Tiffany. The main question for the court of appeals was whether the district court had been correct in holding that the tribunal had exceeded its authority. The judgment, which may be subjected to Supreme Court review, confirms the court's pro-arbitration and enforcement approach.
In a recent decision, the Supreme Court rigorously applied Article III of the New York Convention and ruled that a decision recognising an international arbitral award is no more subject to appeal than a decision recognising a domestic arbitral award. Further, the court rejected the plea that such an appeal should be available under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.