Premium Nafta Products Limited (20th Defendant) and others (Respondents)
Fili Shipping Company Limited (14th Claimant) and others (Appellants)
28. Then there are consequences that would follow, if the appellants are right. It is not just that the parties would be deprived of the benefit of having all their disputes decided in one forum. The jurisdiction clause does not say where disputes about the validity of the contract are to be determined, if this is not to be in the forum which is expressly mentioned. The default position is that such claims would have to be brought in the jurisdiction where their opponents were incorporated, wherever and however unreliable that might be, while claims for breach of contract have to be brought in England. But why, it may be asked, would any sensible businessmen have wished to agree to this? As Bingham LJ said in Ashville Investments Ltd v Elmer Contractors Ltd  QB 488, 517, one should be slow to attribute to reasonable parties an intention that there should in any foreseeable eventuality be two sets of proceedings. If the parties have confidence in their chosen jurisdiction for one purpose, why should they not have confidence in it for the other? Why, having chosen their jurisdiction for one purpose, should they leave the question which court is to have jurisdiction for the other purpose unspoken, with all the risks that this may give rise to? For them, everything is to be gained by avoiding litigation in two different jurisdictions. The same approach applies to the arbitration clause
29. The Court of Appeal said that the time had come for a fresh start to be made, at any rate for cases arising in an international commercial context. It has indeed been clear for many years that the trend of recent authority has risked isolating the approach that English law takes to the wording of such clauses from that which is taken internationally. It makes sense in the context of international commerce for decisions about their effect to be informed by what has been decided elsewhere.
30. The Bundesgerichtshof's Decision of 27 February 1970 to which Lord Hoffmann has referred makes two points that are relevant to this issue. The first is that haphazard interpretations should be avoided and a rule of construction established which presumes, in cases of doubt, that reasonable parties will wish to have the claims arising from their contract decided by the same tribunal irrespective of whether their contract is effective or not. The second is that experience shows that as soon as a dispute of any kind arises from a contract, objections are very often also raised against its validity. As the Bundesgerichtshof said, entrusting the assessment of the facts of the case to different tribunals according to the approach that is taken to the issues between them is unlikely to occur to the contracting parties.
31. In AT & T Technologies Inc v Communications Workers of America, 475 US 643 (1986), 650, the United States Supreme Court said that, in the absence of any express provision excluding a particular grievance from arbitration, only the most forceful evidence of a purpose to exclude the claim from arbitration could prevail. In Threlkeld & Co Inc v Metallgesellschaft Ltd (London), 923 F 2d 245 (2d Cir 1991), the court observed that federal arbitration policy required that any doubts concerning the scope of arbitral issues should be resolved in favour of arbitration and that arbitration clauses should be construed as broadly as possible. In Comandate Marine Corp v Pan Australia Shipping Pty Ltd  FCAFC 192, para 165 the Federal Court of Australia said that a liberal approach to the words chosen by the parties was underpinned by the sensible commercial presumption that the parties did not intend the inconvenience of having possible disputes from their transaction being heard in two places, particularly when they were operating in a truly international market. This approach to the issue of construction is now firmly embedded as part of the law of international commerce. I agree with the Court of Appeal that it must now be accepted as part of our law too.
32. It is in the light of these observations that the issue of severability should be viewed also. Section 7 of the Arbitration Act 1996 reproduces in English law the principle that was laid down by section 4 of the United States Arbitration Act 1925. That section provides that, on being satisfied that the making of the agreement for arbitration or the failure to comply therewith is not in issue, the court shall make an order directing the parties to proceed to arbitration. Section 7 uses slightly different language, but it is to the same effect. The validity, existence or effectiveness of the arbitration agreement is not dependent upon the effectiveness, existence or validity of the underlying substantive contract unless the parties have agreed to this. The purpose of these provisions, as the United States Supreme Court observed in Prima Paint Corpn v Flood & Conklin Mfg Co, 388 US 395 (1967), 404, is that the arbitration procedure, when selected by the parties to a contract, should be speedy and not subject to delay and obstruction in the courts. The statutory language, it said, did not permit the court to consider claims of fraud in the inducement of the contract generally. It could consider only issues relating to the making and performance of the agreement to arbitrate. Dicey, Morris and Collins, The Conflict of Laws, 14th ed (2006), vol 1, para 12-099, acknowledge that there are excellent reasons of policy to support this approach.
33. The appellants' case is that, as there was no real consent to the charterparties because they were induced by bribery, there was no real consent to the arbitration clauses. They submit that a line does not have to be drawn between matters which might impeach the arbitration clause and those which affect the main contract. What is needed is an analysis of whether the matters that affect the main contract are also matters which affect the validity of the arbitration clause. As the respondents point out, this is a causation argument. The appellants say that no substantive distinction can be drawn between various situations where the complaint is made that there was no real consent to the transaction. It would be contrary to the policy of the law, which is to deter bribery, that acts of the person who is alleged to have been bribed should deprive the innocent party of access to a court for determination of the issue whether the contract was induced by bribery.
34. But, as Longmore LJ said in para 21 of the Court of Appeal's judgment, this case is different from a dispute as to whether there was ever a contract at all. As everyone knows, an arbitral award possesses no binding force except that which is derived from the joint mandate of the contracting parties. Everything depends on their contract, and if there was no contract to go to arbitration at all an arbitrator's award can have no validity. So, where the arbitration agreement is set out in the same document as the main contract, the issue whether there was an agreement at all may indeed affect all parts of it. Issues as to whether the entire agreement was procured by impersonation or by forgery, for example, are unlikely to be severable from the arbitration clause.
35. That is not this case, however. The appellants' argument was not that there was no contract at all, but that they were entitled to rescind the contract including the arbitration agreement because the contract was induced by bribery. Allegations of that kind, if sound, may affect the validity of the main agreement. But they do not undermine the validity of the arbitration agreement as a distinct agreement. The doctrine of separability requires direct impeachment of the arbitration agreement before it can be set aside. This is an exacting test. The argument must be based on facts which are specific to the arbitration agreement. Allegations that are parasitical to a challenge to the validity to the main agreement will not do. That being the situation in this case, the agreement to go to arbitration must be given effect.
LORD SCOTT OF FOSCOTE
36. I have had the advantage of reading in advance the opinion of my noble and learned friend Lord Hoffmann and find myself in complete agreement with the conclusion he has reached and his reasons for that conclusion. I cannot improve upon those reasons and shall not try to do so. I, too, would dismiss this appeal.
LORD WALKER OF GESTINGTHORPE
37. I have had the privilege of reading in draft the opinion of my noble and learned friend Lord Hoffmann. I am in full agreement with it. It gives full effect to the legislative purpose of section 7 of the Arbitration Act 1996. It marks a fresh start, leaving behind some fine verbal distinctions (on the language of particular arbitration clauses) which few commercial men would regard as significant. For these reasons I too would dismiss this appeal.
LORD BROWN OF EATON-UNDER-HEYWOOD