Tag Archive for: international commercial arbitration

First View Article on ICLQ

A first view article was published online on 12 April 2024 in International and Comparative Law Quarterly.

Raphael Ren, “The Dichotomy between Jurisdiction and Admissibility in International Arbitration”

The dichotomy between jurisdiction and admissibility developed in public international law has drawn much attention from arbitrators and judges in recent years. Inspired by Paulsson’s ‘tribunal versus claim’ lodestar, attempts have been made to transpose the distinction from public international law to investment treaty arbitration, yielding a mixed reception from tribunals. Remarkably, a second leap of transposition has found firmer footing in commercial arbitration, culminating in the prevailing view of the common law courts in England, Singapore and Hong Kong that arbitral decisions on admissibility are non-reviewable. However, this double transposition from international law to commercial arbitration is misguided. First, admissibility is a concept peculiar to international law and not embodied in domestic arbitral statutes. Second, its importation into commercial arbitration risks undermining the fundamental notion of jurisdiction grounded upon the consent of parties. Third, the duality of ‘night and day’ postulated by Paulsson to distinguish between reviewable and non-reviewable arbitral rulings is best reserved to represent the basic dichotomy between jurisdiction and merits.

Uber Arbitration Clause Unconscionable

In 2017 drivers working under contract for Uber in Ontario launched a class action.  They alleged that under Ontario law they were employees entitled to various benefits Uber was not providing.  In response, Uber sought to stay the proceedings on the basis of an arbitration clause in the standard-form contract with each driver.  Under its terms a driver is required to resolve any dispute with Uber through mediation and arbitration in the Netherlands.  The mediation and arbitration process requires up-front administrative and filing fees of US$14,500.  In response, the drivers argued that the arbitration clause was unenforceable.

The Supreme Court of Canada has held in Uber Technologies Inc. v. Heller, 2020 SCC 16 that the arbitration clause is unenforceable, paving the way for the class action to proceed in Ontario.  A majority of seven judges held the clause was unconscionable.  One judge held that unconscionability was not the proper framework for analysis but that the clause was contrary to public policy.  One judge, in dissent, upheld the clause.

A threshold dispute was whether the motion to stay the proceedings was under the Arbitration Act, 1991, S.O. 1991, c. 17 or the International Commercial Arbitration Act, 2017, S.O. 2017, c. 2, Sch. 5.  Eight judges held that as the dispute was fundamentally about labour and employment, the ICAA did not apply and the AA was the relevant statute (see paras. 18-28, 104).  While s. 7(1) of the AA directs the court to stay proceedings in the face of an agreement to arbitration, s. 7(2) is an exception that applies, inter alia, if the arbitration agreement is “invalid”.  That was accordingly the framework for the analysis.  In dissent Justice Cote held that the ICAA was the applicable statute as the relationship was international and commercial in nature (paras. 210-18).

The majority (a decision written by Abella and Rowe JJ) offered two reasons for not leaving the issue of the validity of the clause to the arbitrator.  First, although the issue involved a mixed question of law and fact, the question could be resolved by the court on only a “superficial review” of the record (para. 37).  Second, the court was required to consider “whether there is a real prospect, in the circumstances, that the arbitrator may never decide the merits of the jurisdictional challenge” (para. 45).  If so, the court is to decide the issue.  This is rooted in concerns about access to justice (para. 38).  In the majority’s view, the high fees required to commence the arbitration are a “brick wall” on any pathway to resolution of the drivers’ claims.

The majority then engaged in a detailed discussion of the doctrine of unconscionability.  It requires both “an inequality of bargaining power and a resulting improvident bargain” (para. 65).  On the former, the majority noted the standard form, take-it-or-leave-it nature of the contract and the “significant gulf in sophistication” between the parties (para. 93).  On the latter, the majority stressed the high up-front costs and apparent necessity to travel to the Netherlands to raise any dispute (para. 94).  In its view, “No reasonable person who had understood and appreciated the implications of the arbitration clause would have agreed to it” (para. 95).  As a result, the clause is unconscionable and thus invalid.

Justice Brown instead relied on the public policy of favouring access to justice and precluding an ouster of the jurisdiction of the court.  An arbitration clause that has the practical effect of precluding arbitration cannot be accepted (para. 119).  Contractual stipulations that prohibit the resolution of disputes according to law, whether by express prohibition or simply by effect, are unenforceable as a matter of public policy (para. 121).

Justice Brown also set out at length his concerns about the majority’s reliance on unconscionability: “the doctrine of unconscionability is ill-suited here.  Further, their approach is likely to introduce added uncertainty in the enforcement of contracts, where predictability is paramount” (para. 147).  Indeed, he criticized the majority for significantly lowering the hurdle for unconscionability, suggesting that every standard-form contract would, on the majority’s view, meet the first element of an inequality of bargaining power and therefore open up an inquiry into the sufficiency of the bargain (paras. 162-63).  Justice Brown concluded that “my colleagues’ approach drastically expands the scope of unconscionability, provides very little guidance for the doctrine’s application, and does all of this in the context of an appeal whose just disposition requires no such change” (para. 174).

In dissent, Justice Cote was critical of the other judges’ willingness, in the circumstances, to resolve the issue rather than refer it to the arbitrator for decision: “In my view, my colleagues’ efforts to avoid the operation of the rule of systematic referral to arbitration reflects the same historical hostility to arbitration which the legislature and this Court have sought to dispel. The simple fact is that the parties in this case have agreed to settle any disputes through arbitration; this Court should not hesitate to give effect to that arrangement. The ease with which my colleagues dispense with the Arbitration Clause on the basis of the thinnest of factual records causes me to fear that the doctrines of unconscionability and public policy are being converted into a form of ad hoc judicial moralism or “palm tree justice” that will sow uncertainty and invite endless litigation over the enforceability of arbitration agreements” (para. 237).  Justice Cote also shared many of Justice Brown’s concerns about the majority’s use of unconscionability: “I am concerned that their threshold for a finding of inequality of bargaining power has been set so low as to be practically meaningless in the case of standard form contracts” (para. 257).

The decision is lengthy and several additional issues are canvassed, especially in the reasons of Justice Cote and Justice Brown.  The ultimate result, with the drivers not being bound by the arbitration clause, is not that surprising.  Perhaps the most significant questions moving forward will be the effect these reasons have on the doctrine of unconscionability more generally.

Supreme Court of California (ROCKEFELLER TECHNOLOGY INVESTMENTS (ASIA) v. CHANGZHOU SINOTYPE TECHNOLOGY CO., LTD). A European reading of the ruling

A bit more than a month ago, the Supreme Court of California rendered its decision on a case concerning the (non-)application of the 1965 Hague Service Convention. The case has been thoroughly reported and commented before and after  the ruling of the Supreme Court. I will refrain from giving the full picture of the facts; I will focus on the central question of the dispute.


The parties are U.S. and Chinese business entities. They entered into a contract wherein they agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of California courts and to resolve disputes between them through California arbitration. They also agreed to provide notice and “service of process” to each other through Federal Express or similar courier. The exact wording of the clause in the MOU reads as follows:

“6. The Parties shall provide notice in the English language to each other at the addresses set forth in the Agreement via Federal Express or similar courier, with copies via facsimile or email, and shall be deemed received 3 business days after deposit with the courier.

“7. The Parties hereby submit to the jurisdiction of the Federal and State Courts in California and consent to service of process in accord with the notice provisions above”.


An agreement between the companies was eventually not reached, which was reason for Rockefeller to initiate arbitration proceedings. All materials were sent both by email and Federal Express to the Chinese’s company address listed in the MOU. The latter did not appear. The arbitrator awarded Rockefeller the amount of nearly 415 million $. The decision was sent to Sinotype by e-mail and Federal Express.


In accordance with the Civil Procedure Code of the State of California [§ 1285.  Any party to an arbitration in which an award has been made may petition the court to confirm, correct or vacate the award…], Rockefeller petitioned the award to be confirmed. The same ‘service’ method was used by the petitioner, i.e. e-mail and Federal Express. Again, Sinotype did not take part in the proceedings.

At a later stage, Sinotype became active, and filed a motion to set aside the default judgment for insufficiency of service of process. In particular, it asserted that it did not receive actual notice of any proceedings until March 2015 and argued that Rockefeller’s failure to comply with the Hague Service Convention rendered the judgment confirming the arbitration award void. The motion was denied by the Los Angeles County Superior Court; the Court of Appeal reversed; finally, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate decision.


The first instance court confirmed that the Service Convention was in principle applicable, however, the agreement between the parties to accept service by mail was valid and superseded the Convention. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment, stating exactly the opposite, namely that the Service Convention supersedes private agreements. In light of China’s opposition to service by mail, the agreed method of communication was considered inadequate for the purposes of the Convention. The Supreme Court held yet again the opposite, because the parties’ agreement constituted a waiver of formal service of process under California law in favor of an alternative form of notification; hence, the Convention does not apply.


I place myself next to the commentators of the case: It is true that the Service Convention does not apply in the course of arbitration proceedings. There is convincing case law to support this view from different jurisdictions in different continents (example here). However, in the case at hand, the issue at stake was the use of a method not permitted by the Convention in court proceedings. It was lawfully agreed to send all documents by e-mail or FedEx during arbitration. Nowadays, this has become standard procedure in international commercial arbitration. However, a multilateral convention may not succumb to the will of the parties. If a contracting state refuses to accept postal service within the realm of litigation, the parties have no powers to decide otherwise. The best option would be, as already suggested, to oblige a party to appoint a service agent. This enables service within the jurisdiction, as already decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft v. Schlunk case. In a similar fashion, the CJEU consolidated the same position in the Corporis Sp. z o.o. v Gefion Insurance A/S case, following its ruling in the case Spedition Welter GmbH v Avanssur SA.

Finally, returning to the EU, postal service would not require any agreement between the parties; Article 14 of the Service Regulation stipulates service by mail as an equivalent means of service between Member States. In addition, service by e-mail is scheduled to be embedded into the forthcoming Recast of the Regulation under certain requirements which are not yet solidified.

Milan Investment Arbitration Pre-Moot – 14-15 February 2020

Following an earlier post, here’s a reminder of the First Edition of the Milan Investment Arbitration Pre-Moot.

Albert Henke prepared for this reason the following announcement:

On February, 14 and 15, 2020 will take place in Milan the First Edition of the Milan Investment Arbitration Pre-Moot, an event jointly organized by the Law Firm DLA Piper, Milan, Università degli Studi of Milan and the European Court of Arbitration (Italian section). The Pre-Moot will be a chance for ten University teams from all around the world to test their advocacy skills in moot arbitration hearings, in preparation for the Frankfurt International Arbitration Moot Competition, the oldest and most prestigious student competition in the area of investment protection law, scheduled for the beginning of March 2020 in Frankfurt (https://www.investmentmoot.org/news-2-2/). The Pre-Moot will be introduced by a Conference hosted by Università degli Studi on the topic: “Outstanding issues and recent developments in international investment arbitration”. All the information in the attached flyer

New International Commercial Arbitration Statute for Ontario

Ontario has enacted and brought into force the International Commercial Arbitration Act, 2017, SO 2017, c 2, Sched 5 (available here) to replace its previous statute on international commercial arbitration.  The central feature of the new statute is that it provides that BOTH the 1958 New York Convention and the 1985 Model Law have the force of law in Ontario.  Previously, when Ontario had given the Model Law the force of law in Ontario it had repealed its statute that had given the New York Convention the force of law in Ontario.  This made Ontario an outlier within Canada since the New York Convention has the force of law in all other provinces (as does the Model Law).

The previous statute did not address the issue of the limitation period for enforcing a foreign award.  The new statute addresses this in section 10, adopting a general 10 year period from the date of the award (subject to some exceptions).   Section 8 deals with the consolidation of arbitrations and section 11 deals with appeals from arbitral decisions on jurisdiction.

Galgano & Marrella, Diritto del Commercio Internazionale, III ed.

The Italian publisher house CEDAM has recently published the third edition of the leading textbook on International Business Law in the Italian language, “Diritto del commercio internazionale“, authored by Prof. Francesco Galgano (emeritus at the University of Bologna) and Prof. Fabrizio Marrella (“Cà Foscari” University of Venice and Université de Paris I – Panthéon Sorbonne).

A presentation has been kindly provided by the authors (the complete TOC is available here):

The book aims at a comprehensive coverage of the legal issues global business managers face. Focusing on the trade, licensing and investment life-cycle that many domestic -new to international- and multinational organizations experience, it provides the necessary understanding of legal issues concerning import-export, market-entry strategies, protecting and licensing intellectual property to learning the special challenges of international investment operations. The third edition is updated to the most significant developments in the field such as: the Lisbon Treaty; Regulation Rome I on the law applicable to contractual obligations and Regulation Rome II on the law applicable to non contractual obligations. In addition, it offers updated information on, inter alia, the Unidroit Principles on International Commercial Contracts (2010); the new UCP 600 (the Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits, i.e. a set of rules on the issuance and use of letters of credit utilised by bankers and commercial parties in more than 175 countries in trade finance); INCOTERMS 2010;  payment modalities, contracts of carriage and new ICC rules for demand guarantees. A special emphasis is given to arbitration as the main tool for dispute resolution in the international business world.

Title: Diritto del Commercio Internazionale, III edition, by Francesco Galgano and Fabrizio Marrella, CEDAM, Padova, 2011, XXXII-986 pages.

ISBN: 978-88-13-29966-8. Price: EUR 65.

Convergence and Divergence in Private International Law – Liber Amicorum Kurt Siehr

As we pointed out in a previous post, a very rich collection of essays in honor of Prof. Kurt Siehr on his 75th birthday has been recently published by Eleven International Publishing and Schulthess, under the editorship of Katharina Boele-Woelki, Talia Einhorn, Daniel Girsberger and Symeon Symeonides: Convergence and Divergence in Private International Law – Liber Amicorum Kurt Siehr. A previous Festschrift was dedicated to Prof. Siehr in 2000: “Private Law in the International Arena – From National Conflict Rules Towards Harmonization and Unification: Liber amicorum Kurt Siehr” (see Google Books).

Here’s the table of contents:

Part I: General Aspects of PIL Law-Making.

  • Talia Einhorn, American vs. European Private International Law – The Case for a Model Conflict of Laws Act (MCLA);
  • Peter Hay, Comparative and International Law in the United States – Mixed Signals;
  • Herbert Kronke, Connecting Factors and Internationality in Conflict of Laws and Transnational Commercial Law;
  • Jim Nafziger, Democratic Values in the Choice-of-Law Process;
  • Anton K. Schnyder, Keine Berührungsangst des Schweizerischen Bundesgerichts im Umgang mit Eingriffsnormen;
  • Frank Vischer, ‘Revolutionary ideas’ and the Swiss Statute on Private International Law;
  • Jun Yokoyama, Renvoi in Japanese Private International Law.

Read more

Cuadernos de Derecho Transnacional, vol. 2/2010

The second issue for 2010 of the Cuadernos de Derecho Transnacional, the Spanish journal published twice a year by the Área de Derecho Internacional Privado of Univ. Carlos III of Madrid under the editorship of Alfonso Luis Calvo-Caravaca (Univ. Carlos III) and Javier Carrascosa-González (Univ. of Murcia), has been recently published. It contains twenty articles, shorter articles and casenotes, encompassing a wide range of topics in conflict of laws, conflict of jurisdictions and uniform law, all freely available for download from the journal’s website.

Here’s the table of contents (each contribution is accompanied by an abstract in English):


  • José María Alcántara, Frazer Hunt, Svante O. Johansson, Barry Oland, Kay Pysden, Jan Ramberg, Douglas G. Schmitt, William Tetley C.M., Q. C., Julio Vidal, Particular concerns with regard to the Rotterdam Rules;
  • Giacomo Biagioni, Tecniche internazionalprivatistiche fondate sulla volontà delle parti nel Diritto dell’Unione Europea;
  • Alfonso-Luis Calvo Caravaca, Celia Caamiña Domínguez, L’incorporation au régime juridique espagnol de la normative communautaire de restitution de biens culturels;
  • Federico F. Garau Sobrino, Los acuerdos atributivos de jurisdicción en Derecho Procesal Civil Internacional español;
  • Miguel Gómez Jene, Concurso y arbitraje internacional;
  • Carlos Llorente Gómez de Segua, Las Reglas de Rotterdam (II);
  • Olivia Lopes Pegna, La proposta di cooperazione rafforzata sulla legge applicabile a separazione e divorzio: profili problematici;
  • Agustín Luna Serrano, Hacia el abandono de la mención de la causa en la conformación definitoria del contrato;
  • Maria João Matias Fernandez, O Direito aplicável aos negócios relativos a instrumentos financeiros: a disciplina introduzida pelo novo Regulamento comunitário sobre a lei aplicável às obrigações contratuais («Roma I»);
  • Juan Jorge Piernas López, The notion of State aid and regulation in the EU: drawing the shape of a moving target;
  • María José Santos Morón, Forma contractual y “desarmonización” comunitaria.


  • Celia Caamiña Domínguez, Las resoluciones de restitución de menores en la Unión Europea: el caso Rinau;
  • Alfonso-Luis Calvo Caravaca, Javier Carrascosa González, Notas breves sobre la Sentencia del TJUE (Sala Cuarta) de 20 mayo 2010 (Bilas: asunto C-111/09): la sumisión tácita en los litigios internacionales de seguro, consumo y trabajo;
  • Cristina Campiglio, Il foro della residenza abituale del coniuge nel Regolamento (CE) N° 2201/2003: note a margine delle prime pronunce italiane;
  • Antonia Durán Ayango, El concepto de orden público internacional y el derecho a un proceso justo. Nota a la STJCE de 2 de abril de 2009;
  • Antonia Durán Ayango, El concepto de parte en el proceso de exequátur. Nota a la STJCE de 23 de abril de 2009;
  • Pilar Juárez Pérez, Dieciocho años de ciudadanía de la Unión: ¿hacia una figura emancipada?;
  • Pilar Maestre Casas, Doble nacionalidad y forum patriae en divorcios internacionales;
  • Giulia Rossolillo, Convenzioni concluse dagli Stati Membri e Diritto processuale civile internazionale dell’Unione Europea: interpretazione conforme o rispetto degli obblighi internazionali?;
  • Julia Suderow, Cuestiones de jurisdicción internacional en torno a la aplicación privada del Derecho antitrust: forum shopping y “demandas torpedo”.

See also our previous posts on issues 1/2009 and 2/2009 of the CDT. The journal’s website provides a very useful search function, by which contents can be browsed by issue of publication, author, title, keywords, abstract and fulltext.

(Many thanks to Pietro Franzina, University of Ferrara, for the tip-off)

Limitation Period for Enforcing Foreign Arbitration Award

In Yugraneft Corp. v. Rexx Management Corp., 2010 SCC 19 (available here) the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the decision of two lower courts that the plaintiff’s claim to enforce a Russian arbitration award was brought after the expiry of the applicable provincial limitation period.

Following a contractual dispute, Yugraneft commenced arbitration proceedings before the International Commercial Arbitration Court at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation.  The arbitral tribunal issued its final award on September 6, 2002, ordering Rexx to pay US$952,614.43 in damages to Yugraneft.  Yugraneft applied to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench for recognition and enforcement of the award on January 27, 2006, more than three years after the award was rendered.

The court was required to interpret article 3 of the New York Convention, which provides that recognition and enforcement shall be “in accordance with the rules of procedure of the territory where the award is relied upon”.  This raised an issue in Canadian litigation since the Supreme Court of Canada has held (in Tolofson v. Jensen, [1994] 3 S.C.R. 1022) that limitation periods are substantive and not procedural.  The court rightly concludes that this does not mean that the forum’s limitation period cannot be applied to the enforcement action (paras. 18-29). 

The remainder of the decision deals with what the limitation period is under Alberta law.  The plaintiff attempted to convince the court to apply a ten-year period, applicable to a “claim based on a judgment or order for the payment of money” (para. 43).  The court, based on the clear wording of the statute, had to conclude that an arbitration award did not fall within this language (para. 44).  As a result, the claim was governed by the general two-year period and so was, on the facts, time barred (para. 63).

The court does suggest that the two-year time period will not start to run until the plaintiff discovers, or should have discovered, that the defendant has assets in the place where enforcement is sought (para. 49).  This fact is not strictly part of the cause of action.  Still, this statement, if accepted as correct, should provide some comfort in the face of the relatively short two-year period.  However, this statement draws in part on the specific language of s. 3(1)(a)(iii) of the Alberta limitation statute, which deals with knowing whether a proceeding is “warranted” (see para. 61).  If so, the analysis could be different under a statute that did not have this specific language as part of the test of discoverability (see for example the language in s. 5(1)(a)(iv) of the Ontario limitation statute).

This area would benefit from a clear legislative solution, namely a provision containing an express limitation period for claims on foreign arbitration awards.  Such a period should, in recognition of the issues involved, be longer than the province’s general limitation period.

Publication: Galgano & Marrella, Diritto e Prassi del Commercio Internazionale

Galgano-Marrella Diritto e Prassi del Commercio InternazionaleProf. Francesco Galgano (emeritus in the University of Bologna Law School
and founder of Galgano Law Firm) and Prof. Fabrizio Marrella (“Cà Foscari” University of Venice) have recently published “Diritto e Prassi del Commercio Internazionale” (CEDAM, 2010), vol. LIV of the “Trattato di Diritto Commerciale e di Diritto Pubblico dell’Economia“, one of the most authoritative Italian legal series, directed by Prof. Galgano.

A presentation has been kindly provided by the authors (the complete TOC is available on the publisher’s website):

The problems affecting cross-border transactions from a legal standpoint as well as arbitration have boomed in the last years. This book is the first systematic and accurate analysis of International Business Law updated to the most important reforms in the European Union such as: the Lisbon Treaty; Regulation Rome I on the law applicable to contractual obligations and Regulation Rome II on the law applicable to non contractual obligations. New competences for international trade negotiations have been attributed by Member States to the EU. Moreover, an entirely new choice of law regime has been introduced in the European Union affecting world international contracts and transnational arbitration. In addition,new instruments have been generated from the business side such as the new UCP 600 (the Uniform Customs and Practice for Documentary Credits, i.e. a set of rules on the issuance and use of letters of credit utilised by bankers and commercial parties in more than 175 countries in trade finance).

Beautifully written by two world reputed Authors in the field, the purpose of this work is to closely examine actors and sources of International Commercial Law with particular reference to contracts for the sale of goods and other forms of exports; licensing of intellectual property; and foreign direct investment.

Title: Diritto e Prassi del Commercio Internazionale, by Francesco Galgano and Fabrizio Marrella, CEDAM (series: Trattato di Diritto Commerciale e di Diritto Pubblico dell’Economia, vol. LIV), Padova, 2010, XLVIII-956 pages.

ISBN: 978-88-13-28228-8. Price: EUR 98.