Indian Parties Can Choose A Foreign Seat For Arbitration

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Indian Parties Can Choose A Foreign Seat For Arbitration

Case: PASL Wind Solutions Private Limited Vs. GE Power Conversion India Private Limited

Coram: Justices RF Nariman, BR Gavai and Hrishikesh Roy

Case No: [CA 1647 OF 2021]

Court Observation: “Nothing stands in the way of party autonomy in designating a seat of arbitration outside India even when both parties happen to be Indian nationals”

The Arbitration Act is in four parts. Part I deals with arbitrations where the seat is in India and has no application to a foreign-seated arbitration. It is, therefore, a complete code in dealing with appointment of arbitrators, commencement of arbitration, making of an award and challenges to the aforesaid award as well as execution of such awards. On the other hand, Part II is not concerned with the arbitral proceedings at all. It is concerned only with the enforcement of a foreign award, as defined, in India. Section 45 alone deals with referring the parties to arbitration in the circumstances mentioned therein. Barring this exception, in any case, Part II does not apply to arbitral proceedings once commenced in a country outside India

Freedom of contract needs to be balanced with clear and undeniable harm to the public, even if the facts of a particular case do not fall within the crystallised principles enumerated in well-established ‘heads’ of public policy. The question that then arises is whether there is anything in the public policy of India, as so understood, which interdicts the party autonomy of two Indian persons referring their disputes to arbitration at a neutral forum outside India.

“52. It can be seen that section 28(1)(a) of the Arbitration Act makes no reference to an arbitration being conducted between two Indian parties in a country other than India, and cannot be held, by some tortuous process of reasoning, to interdict two Indian parties from resolving their disputes at a neutral forum in a country other than India.

Take the case of an Indian national who is habitually resident in a country outside India. Any dispute between such Indian national and an Indian national who is habitually resident in India would attract the provisions of section 2(1)(f)(i) and, consequently, section 28(1)(b) of the Arbitration Act, in which case two Indian nationals would be entitled to have their dispute decided in India in accordance with the rules of law designated by the parties as applicable to the substance of the dispute, which need not be Indian law. This, by itself, is a strong indicator that section 28 of the Arbitration Act cannot be read in the manner suggested by Mr. Himani.”,

“We have already seen how “international commercial arbitration”, when used in the proviso to section 2(2) of the Arbitration Act, does not refer to the definition contained in section 2(1)(f) but would have reference to arbitrations which take place outside India, awards made in such arbitrations being enforceable under Part II of the Arbitration Act. It will be noted that section 10(1) applies to international commercial arbitrations, and applications or appeals arising therefrom, under both Parts I and II of the Arbitration Act. When applications or appeals arise out of such arbitrations under Part I, where the place of arbitration is in India, undoubtedly, the definition of “international commercial arbitration” in section 2(1)(f) will govern.

However, when applied to Part II, “international commercial arbitration” has reference to a place of arbitration which is international in the sense of the arbitration taking place outside India. Thus construed, there is no clash at all between section 10 of the Commercial Courts Act and the explanation to section 47 of the Arbitration Act, as an arbitration resulting in a foreign award, as defined under section 44 of the Arbitration Act, will be enforceable only in a High Court under section 10(1) of the Commercial Courts Act, and not in a district court under section 10(2) or section 10(3).”

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