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ARBITRATION AGREEMENT MUST SATISFY THE NORMAL REQUIREMENT OF A CONTRACT

Dictum

My Lords, every Arbitration Agreement must satisfy the normal requirement of a contract such as consensus, capacity and legal relationship. Like any other contract, the terms must be clear and certain. The Court would, however, lean towards a construction that will give effect to the intentions of the parties. Thus, where a contract contained an arbitration clause which merely reads “Arbitration if any, by the I.C.C. Rules of London”, the Court held that the words “if any” which were the basis of the opposition were either surplusage or abbreviation for “if any dispute arises” and therefore sufficient. See MANGISTAURAUNAIGAZ OIL PRODUCTION ASSOCIATION v. UNITED WORLD TRADE INC. (1995) LLYOD’S REP. 617. There must also be a valid underlying substantive contract in existence and an arbitration agreement the terms of which are certain and enforceable. The essence of the arbitration agreement is to refer disputes arising between parties to arbitration. The words by which the reference is made must therefore be clear and express, as an inference will not be implied. So also, what is referred must be clearly and sufficiently stated to ensure that jurisdiction is conferred on the arbitrator.

— H.M. Ogunwumiju, JSC. UBA v Triedent Consulting Ltd. (SC.CV/405/2013, July 07, 2023)

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P&ID DID NOT ENTER THE CONTRACT TO JUST GET A SETTLEMENT VIA ARBITRATION, WITH THE INTENTION OF NOT PERFORMING

490. Here, I am satisfied P&ID did intend to perform the GSPA when it entered into it, and that there were means by which it could have done so. Nigeria has characterised the GSPA as a sham and contended that P&ID as a BVI-registered company with no obvious assets, no relevant experience and few employees, had no genuine intention of performing the GSPA, and would never have been able to do so. However P&ID did not have to contemplate performing the GSPA itself with its assets, experience and employees. This is not, as it represented, because it could simply use the work on Project Alpha to perform the GSPA. It is rather because ICIL Group had shown in the past that they could contract in. 491. Whilst P&ID was prepared to bribe in the course of its business, I do not accept it was of the sophistication to conceive at the contract stage a plan to extract large sums of money from Nigeria by means of an arbitration or a corrupt settlement. Consistently, P&ID did not use the GSPA to move directly to arbitration at the first available opportunity. I have found it did not (as alleged by Nigeria) corrupt Mr Shasore SAN. And it appointed, in Sir Anthony Evans, an arbitrator of unquestioned experience, expertise and independence. 492. It is in these circumstances that I have reached the conclusion that the present is not a case in which, when the parties entered into the GSPA, P&ID’s intention was not to perform it but simply to use it as a device to get an award or settlement. However that is not the end of Nigeria’s section 68(2)(g) challenge.

— R. Knowles CBE. FRN v. Process & Industrial Developments Limited [2023] EWHC 2638 (Comm)

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AN ARBITRATION AGREEMENT IS A SEPARATE CONTRACT

The Courts have always upheld the autonomy and independence of the arbitration clause in the contract. The arbitration agreement may be drawn up separately or may form part of the transaction between the parties. Where the arbitration clause is part of the contract, it is nevertheless regarded in law as a separate contract. In HEYMAN v. DARWIN LTD (1942) A.C 356 at pp. 373-4, the Court in the United Kingdom in considering the legal status of such a clause in a contract, observed: ” … an arbitration clause in a contract is quite distinct from the other clauses. The other clauses set out the obligations which the parties undertake towards each other, but the arbitration clause does not impose on one of the parties an obligation in favour of the other. It embodies the agreement of both parties that, if any dispute arises with regard to the obligations which the one party has undertaken to the other such dispute shall be settled by a Tribunal of their own Constitution.”

— H.M. Ogunwumiju, JSC. UBA v Triedent Consulting Ltd. (SC.CV/405/2013, July 07, 2023)

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HIGH COURT DOES NOT SIT ON APPELLATE FUNCTION OVER ARBITRAL PANEL

In the case of Baker Marine Nigeria Limited v. Chevron Nigeria Limited (2000) 3 NWLR (Pt. 681) 939 @ 410, it was held that an application to set aside an arbitral award: “The lower Court was not sitting as an appellate Court over the award of the arbitrators. The lower Court was not therefore empowered to determine whether or not the findings of the arbitrators and their conclusions were wrong in law. What the lower Court had to do was to look at the award and determine whether on the state of law as understood by them and stated on the face of the award, the arbitrators complied with the law as they themselves rightly or wrongly perceived it. The approach here is subjective. The Court places itself in the position of the arbitrators, not above them, and then determines on that hypothesis whether the arbitrators followed the law as they understood and expressed it.”

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JURISDICTION CAN BE RAISED AT ANYTIME NOT APPLICABLE TO ARBITRATION

For instance, the general position of the law that the issue of jurisdiction of a Court can be raised at any stage of the proceedings of a case, even for the first time at the appellate stage, is not applicable to arbitral proceedings before an arbitral Tribunal because the Act, in Section 12(3) has provided the stage at which a challenge to the jurisdiction of the arbitral Tribunal is to or may be raised by a party.

– Garba, JCA. Dunlop v. Gaslink (2018)

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CONSIDERATIONS OF PUBLIC POLICY IN ARBITRAL PROCEEDINGS

As to public policy, in Cuflet Chartering v. Carousel Shipping Co Ltd [2001] 1 Lloyd’s Re 707 Moore-Bick J (as he then was) said: “Considerations of public policy can never be exhaustively defined, but they should be approached with extreme caution … It has to be shown that there is some illegality or that the enforcement of the award would be clearly injurious to the public good or, possibly, that enforcement would be wholly offensive to the ordinary reasonable and fully informed member of the public on whose behalf the powers of the state are exercised.”

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ARBITRATION AND LITIGATION ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE

By the provisions of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, parties to a contract can include an arbitration clause which allows for disputes to be settled by arbitration instead of litigation. At the end of the arbitration process, the agreement reached (i.e the award) will be enforced by the Courts after registration in Court. Where parties opt to arbitrate over disputes, it does not automatically oust the jurisdiction bestowed on the Court by the 1999 CRFN. Section 2(2) of the Arbitration Act states follows: “Unless a contrary intention is expressed therein, an arbitration agreement shall be irrevocable except by agreement of parties or by leave of the Court or judge.” (emphasis mine) Although it is preferable in many cases to go to arbitration rather than go to Court, it should be noted that arbitration and litigation are not mutually exclusive. Indeed the Court often complements and supplements the functions and powers of the arbitrator. For example, by stay of Court proceedings in appropriate cases; by the issue of subpoena; by making appointments where the parties cannot agree or where a party defaults; for the enforcement of awards and for setting aside awards where necessary. In these cases, the Court intervenes to ensure the proper functioning of arbitration.

— H.M. Ogunwumiju, JSC. UBA v Triedent Consulting Ltd. (SC.CV/405/2013, July 07, 2023)

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