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Fiona Trust Corp V. Frivalov Notes

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FACTS Eight companies within a Russian group of companies entered into charterparties as
owners with three chartering companies. Each of the charterparties contained a clause
providing for "any dispute arising under this charter" to be decided in England and
conferred on either party the right to elect to have any such dispute referred to
arbitration. The owners, among others, brought proceedings against the charterers
for the torts of conspiracy, bribery and breach of fiduciary duty, claiming, inter
alia, that each of the eight charterparties had been induced by bribery and, having
purported to rescind the charters, sought a declaration from the court as to the validity
of that act. The charterers sought to have the issue determined under the arbitration
clause and appointed an arbitrator. On the owners' application under section 72(1) of
the Arbitration Act 1996 to restrain the arbitral proceedings and on the charterers'
application under section 9 of the Act that the court proceedings be stayed, the judge
held that the question whether the charter­parties were void for bribery fell outside the
scope of the arbitration clause and refused the charterers' application for a stay. ISSUES First, whether, as a matter of construction, the arbitration clause is apt to cover the
question of whether the contract was procured by bribery?
Secondly, whether it is possible for a party to be bound by submission to arbitration
when he alleges that, but for the bribery, he would never have entered into the contract
containing the arbitration clause?
HOLDING LORD HOFFMANN General Policy In approaching the question of construction, it is therefore necessary to inquire into
the purpose of the arbitration clause. As to this, I think there can be no doubt. The
parties have entered into a relationship, an agreement or what is alleged to be an
agreement or what appears on its face to be an agreement, which may give rise to
disputes. They want those disputes decided by a tribunal which they have chosen,
commonly on the grounds of such matters as its neutrality, expertise and privacy, the
availability of legal services at the seat of the arbitration and the unobtrusive
efficiency of its supervisory law. Particularly in the case of international contracts,
they want a quick and efficient adjudication and do not want to take the risks of delay
and, in too many cases, partiality, in proceedings before a national jurisdiction. If one accepts that this is the purpose of an arbitration clause, its construction must be
influenced by whether the parties, as rational businessmen, were likely to have
intended that only some of the questions arising out of their relationship were to be
submitted to arbitration and others were to be decided by national courts. Could they
have intended that the question of whether the contract was repudiated should be

decided by arbitration but the question of whether it was induced by misrepresentation
should be decided by a court? If, as appears to be generally accepted, there is no
rational basis upon which businessmen would be likely to wish to have questions
of the validity or enforceability of the contract decided by one tribunal and
questions about its performance decided by another, one would need to find very
clear language before deciding that they must have had such an intention. A proper approach to construction therefore requires the court to give effect, so far as
the language used by the parties will permit, to the commercial purpose of the
arbitration clause. But the same policy of giving effect to the commercial purpose also
drives the approach of the courts (and the legislature) to the second question raised in
this appeal, namely, whether there is any conceptual reason why parties who have
agreed to submit the question of the validity of the contract to arbitration should not
be allowed to do so. Validity of the Arbitration agreement when the contract is alleged to be void There was for some time a view that arbitrators could never have jurisdiction to decide
whether a contract was valid. If the contract was invalid, so was the arbitration clause.
But the logic of the proposition was denied by the Court of Appeal in Harbour
Assurance Co (UK) Ltd v Kansa General International Insurance Co Ltd [1993] QB
701 and the question was put beyond doubt by section 7 of the Arbitration Act 1996: "Unless otherwise agreed by the parties, an arbitration agreement which forms
or was intended to form part of another agreement (whether or not in writing)
shall not be regarded as invalid, non­existent or ineffective because that other
agreement is invalid, or did not come into existence or has become ineffective,
and it shall for that purpose be treated as a distinct agreement." The next question is whether, in view of the allegation of bribery, the clause is binding
upon the owners. They say that if they are right about the bribery, they were entitled to
rescind the whole contract, including the arbitration clause. The arbitrator therefore
has no jurisdiction and the dispute should be decided by the court. The principle of separability enacted in section 7 means that the invalidity or
rescission of the main contract does not necessarily entail the invalidity or rescission
of the arbitration agreement. The arbitration agreement must be treated as a "distinct
agreement" and can be void or voidable only on grounds which relate directly to
the arbitration agreement. Of course there may be cases in which the ground upon
which the main agreement is invalid is identical with the ground upon which the
arbitration agreement is invalid. For example, if the main agreement and the
arbitration agreement are contained in the same document and one of the parties
claims that he never agreed to anything in the document and that his signature was
forged, that will be an attack on the validity of the arbitration agreement. But the
ground of attack is not that the main agreement was invalid. It is that the signature to
the arbitration agreement, as a "distinct agreement", was forged. Similarly, if a party
alleges that someone who purported to sign as agent on his behalf had no authority

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