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CRIMINAL MATTERS & FRAUD ARE NOT ARBITRABLE

Dictum

Disputes which are subject of an arbitration agreement must be arbitrable. Matters like criminal matters or where fraud is alleged and raised as a matter of public policy are not to be settled privately by arbitration. See B. J. EXPORT & CHEMICAL CO. LTD v. KADUNA PETRO-CHEMICAL CO. LTD. (Supra).

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

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ARBITRAL AWARDS HAVE SAME FORCE AS A JUDGEMENT OF A COURT

Onwu v. Nka (1996) 7 NWLR (Pt.458) 1 at 17 paragraph E, where the Supreme Court, per Iguh JSC. had this to say: “The law is well settled that where disputes or matters in difference between two or more parties are by consent of the disputants submitted to a domestic forum inclusive of arbitrators or a body of persons who may be invested with judicial authority to hear and determine such disputes and matters for investigation in accordance with customary law and general usages, and a decision is duly given, it is as conclusive and unimpeachable (unless and until set aside on any of the recognized grounds) as the decision of any constituted court of the land, such a decision is consequently binding on the parties and the courts in appropriate cases will enforce it.”

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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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SUBJECT MATTER OF ARBITRATION MUST BE WITHIN THE ORIGINAL CONTRACT

In BAKER MARINE (NIG) v. CHEVRON NIG. LTD (2006) 6 SC 21 at Pg. 31 &37; (2006) FWLR Pt. 326 Pg. 235 at 250, the issue in this Court was whether damages for the tort of conspiracy as opposed to that of breach of contract can be at large and that aggravated damages could be claimed and sustained by the arbitral award. This Court held that any award would be outside the arbitration agreement and the arbitrators are not allowed to re-write the arbitration agreement to include extraneous issues or parties outside the substantive contract between the parties.

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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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IMPORTANCE OF COURT IN RESOLVING DISPUTES AS AGAINST ARBITRATION

589. The privacy of arbitration meant that there was no public or press scrutiny of what was going on and what was not being done. When courts are concerned it is often said that the “open court principle” helps keep judges up to the mark. But it also allows scrutiny of the process as a whole, and what the lawyers and other professionals are doing, and (where a state is involved) what the state is doing to address a dispute on behalf of its people. An open process allows the chance for the public and press to call out what is not right.
591. And Lord Wolfson KC will forgive my quoting his submission for his client in oral closing argument: “Section 68 is not there to give you a remedy if you instruct an honest lawyer who makes a mess of it or doesn’t take an available point. That is just tough. You have made your arbitration bed and you lie on it”. Blunt and correct. But, unless accompanied by public visibility or greater scrutiny by arbitrators, how suitable is the process in a case such as this where what is at stake is public money amounting to a material percentage of a state’s GDP or budget? Is greater visibility in arbitrations involving a state or state owned entities part of the answer?
— R. Knowles CBE. FRN v. Process & Industrial Developments Limited [2023] EWHC 2638 (Comm)

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PARTY CAN APPLY TO COURT TO SET ASIDE AN ARBITRATION AWARD

The provisions simply provide any of the parties to an arbitration award a discretionary right to request, pray for or seek from a Court of law, an order refusing or declining to accord judicial recognition or enforcement of the arbitral award between them. By dint of the provisions, a party to an arbitral agreement is vested with and possesses the unfettered right to approach a Court of law to request that the arbitration award between the parties, should not be recognized and enforced by the Court. The provisions merely provide a right of access to a Court of law for the sole purpose of requesting for or seeking an order that would refuse to recognize and/or enforce an arbitral award the parties thereto, to any one of them.

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

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