West Tankers and Indian Courts


What is the territorial scope of West Tankers? It certainly applies within the European Union, but does it prevent English Courts from enjoining parties to litigate outside of Europe?

In a judgment published yesterday (Shashou & Ors v Sharma ([2009] EWHC 957 (Comm)), Cook J. ruled that West Tankers is irrelevant when the injunction enjoins the parties from litigating in India in contravention with an agreement providing for ICC arbitration in London. 

Since India has not acceded to the EU (and is not, so far as I am aware, expected ever to do so), why was West Tankers even mentioned ?

The case was about a shareholders agreement for a venture in India between Indian parties. It provided for the substantive law of the contract to be Indian Law.

Cook J. held:

23      It is common ground between the parties that the basis for this court’s grant of an anti-suit injunction of the kind sought depends upon the seat of the arbitration.  The significance of this has been explored in a number of authorities including in particular ABB Lummus Global v Keppel Fels Ltd [1999] 2 LLR 24, C v D [2007] EWHC 1541 (at first instance) and [2007] EWCA CIV 1282 (in the Court of Appeal), Dubai Islamic Bank PJSC v Paymentech [2001] 1 LLR 65 and Braes of Doune v Alfred McAlpine [2008] EWHC 426.  The effect of my decision at paragraphs 23-29 in C v D, relying on earlier authorities and confirmed by the judgment of the Court of Appeal at paragraph 16 and 17 is that an agreement as to the seat of an arbitration brings in the law of that country as the curial law and is analogous to an exclusive jurisdiction clause.  Not only is there agreement to the curial law of the seat, but also to the courts of the seat having supervisory jurisdiction over the arbitration, so that, by agreeing to the seat, the parties agree that any challenge to an interim or final award is to be made only in the courts of the place designated as the seat of the arbitration.  Subject to the Front Comor argument which I consider later in this judgment, the Court of Appeal’s decision in C v D is to be taken as correctly stating the law. 

35      Mr Timothy Charlton QC on behalf of the defendant submitted that the landscape of anti-suit injunctions had now been changed from the position set out by the Court of Appeal in C v D by the decision of the European Court of Justice in the Front Comor – Case C185/07 ECJ [2009] 1 AER 435.  There, an English anti-suit injunction to restrain an Italian action on the grounds that the dispute in those actions had to be arbitrated in London was found to be incompatible with Regulation 44/2001.  Although it was conceded that the decision specifically related to countries which were subject to Community law, it was submitted that the reasoning of both the Advocate General and the court should apply to countries which were parties to a convention such as the New York Convention.  Reliance was placed on paragraph 33 of the European Court’s judgment where, having found that an anti-suit injunction preventing proceedings being pursued in the court of a Member State was not compatible with Regulation No 44/2001, the court went onto say that the finding was supported by Article II(3) of the New York Convention, according to which it is the court of a Contracting State, when seized of an action in a matter in respect of which the parties have made an arbitration agreement, that will at the request of one of the parties refer the parties to arbitration, unless it finds that the said agreement is null and void, inoperative or incapable of being performed.  The Advocate General, in her Opinion said “incidentally, it is consistent with the New York Convention for a court which has jurisdiction over the subject matter of the proceedings under Regulation No 44/2001 to examine the preliminary issue of the existence and scope of the arbitration clause itself

36.     It is plain from the way in which the matter is put both by the European Court of Justice and the Advocate General, that their concern was to show that there was no incompatibility or inconsistency between the position as they stated it to be, as a matter of European Law, and the New York Convention.  This does not however mean that the rationale for that decision, which is binding in Member States, applies to the position between England on the one hand and a country which is not a Member State, whether or not that State is a party to the New York Convention.  An examination of the reasoning of the European Court, and the Advocate General reveals that the basis of the decision is the uniform application of the Regulation across the Member States and the mutual trust and confidence that each state should repose in the courts of the other states which are to be granted full autonomy to decide their own jurisdiction and to apply the provisions of the Regulation themselves.  Articles 27 and 28 provide a code for dealing with issues of jurisdiction and the courts of one Member State must not interfere with the decisions of the court of another Member State in its application of those provisions.  Thus, although the House of Lords was able to find that anti-suit injunctions were permitted because of the exception in Article 1(2)(d) of the Regulation which excludes arbitration from the scope of it, the European Court held that, even though the English proceedings did not come within the scope of the Regulation, the anti-suit injunction granted by the English court had the effect of undermining the effectiveness of the Regulation by preventing the attainment of the objects of unification of the rules of conflict of jurisdiction in civil and commercial matters and the free movement of decisions in those matters, because it had the effect of preventing a court of another member state from exercising the jurisdiction conferred on it by the Regulation (paragraph 24). 

37.     None of this has any application to the position as between England and India.  The body of law which establishes that an agreement to the seat of an arbitration is akin to an exclusive jurisdiction clause remains good law.  If the defendant is right, C v D would now have to be decided differently.  Both the USA (with which C v D was concerned) and India are parties to the New York Convention, but the basis of the Convention, as explained in C v D, as applied in England in accordance with its own principles on the conflict of laws, is that the courts of the seat of arbitration are the only courts where the award can be challenged whilst, of course, under Article V of the Convention there are limited grounds upon which other contracting states can refuse to recognise or enforce the award once made.

38.     The Regulation provides a detailed framework for determining the jurisdiction of member courts where the New York Convention does not, since it is concerned with recognition and enforcement at a later stage.  There are no “Convention rights” of the kind with which the European Court was concerned at issue in the present case.  The defendant is not seeking to enforce any such rights but merely to outflank the agreed supervisory jurisdiction of this court.  What the defendant is seeking to do in India is to challenge the award (the section 34 IACA Petition) in circumstances where he has failed in a challenge in the courts of the country which is the seat of the arbitration (the ss.68 and 69 Arbitration Act applications).  Whilst of course the defendant is entitled to resist enforcement in India on any of the grounds set out in Article V of the New York Convention, what he has done so far is to seek to set aside the Costs Award and to prevent enforcement of the Costs Award in England, in relation to a charging order over a house in England, when the English courts have already decided the matters, which plainly fall within their remit.  The defendant is seeking to persuade the Indian courts to interfere with the English courts’ enforcement proceedings whilst at the same time arguing that the English courts should not interfere with the Indian courts, which he would like to replace the English courts as the supervisory jurisdiction to which the parties have contractually agreed. 
39.     In my judgment therefore there is nothing in the European Court decision in Front Comor which impacts upon the law as developed in this country in relation to anti-suit injunctions which prevent parties from pursuing proceedings in the courts of a country which is not a Member State of the European Community, whether on the basis of an exclusive jurisdiction clause, or an agreement to arbitrate (in accordance with the decision in the Angelic Grace [1995] 1 LLR 87) or the agreement of the parties to the supervisory powers of this court by agreeing London as the seat of the arbitration (in accordance with the decision in C v D).
 Hat tip: Hew Dundas, Jacob van de Velden