The Supreme Court recently decided key issues relating to the interpretation of arbitration clauses and the scope of appealable orders under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act. This judgment does an admirable job of resolving residual ambiguities regarding the issue of exclusive jurisdiction where the seat of an arbitration is situated. Notably, through its decision, the Supreme Court has specifically declared that its earlier judgment in Hardy Exploration and the Delhi High Court's decision in Antrix are incorrect.
The Supreme Court recently considered whether an unconditional stay can be granted under Section 36 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996 when the applicant is the government. The court rightly held that the safeguards which were incorporated for the Crown by Order 27, Rule 8A of the Code of Civil Procedure are now inapplicable and outdated, especially as the purpose and intent of alternate dispute resolution is to treat parties equally.
The division bench of the Supreme Court recently held that if the parties to an arbitration have agreed an arbitrators' fee schedule, the arbitrators must charge their fees in accordance with this agreed schedule and not in accordance with the Fourth Schedule of the amended Arbitration Act. While this decision gives credence to party autonomy and may thus be hailed as pro-arbitration, it specifies no limits and provides no other directions for parties to bear in mind when fixing a fee schedule.
It is common knowledge that arbitration provides greater flexibility and party autonomy compared with traditional litigation before the courts. Corollary to this, the agreed terms for the appointment of an arbitrator or arbitral tribunal must be strictly followed while making such appointments if a dispute arises between the parties to an agreement. However, what happens when an arbitrator fails to or is prevented from acting specifically at the penultimate stage?
The question of whether a contract can be amended retroactively was raised in the arbitration proceedings between Ssangyong and the National Highways Authority of India. The Supreme Court's ruling on the case is a welcome exposition on the contours of Section 34 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, especially in relation to challenges on grounds of violations of principles of natural justice.