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Commercial Court upholds order enforcing arbitration award against public policy challenge under s 103(3) Arbitration Act 1996

Commercial Court upholds order enforcing arbitration award against public policy challenge under s 103(3) Arbitration Act 1996: Alexander Brothers Ltd v Alstom Transport SA and Anr [2020] EWHC 1584 (Comm).

The Defendants applied to set aside an order enforcing a Swiss-seated ICC arbitration award in favour of the Claimant on the public policy ground. The factual ground alleged was bribery and corruption by the Claimant in the performance of the underlying contracts. In enforcement proceedings in France, the Paris Court of Appeal had refused enforcement on that factual ground.

In a lengthy and learned Judgment rejecting the challenge, Cockerill J considered the leading authority in the area, the majority decision of the Court of Appeal in Westacre Investments Inc. v Jugoimport-SPDR Holding Co. Ltd. and Ors [2000] 1 QB 288. She described that aspect of Westacre as not “entirely satisfactory” and as giving rise to “no clear statement of principle in this area”. Cockerill J’s decision considers the correct approach in law to a challenge to enforcement on the ground of bribery and corruption and the significant obstacles to such a challenge under English law. The decision also considers EU law on public policy and the enforcement of arbitration awards and the line of authority emanating from Eco Swiss China Time Ltd v Benetton International NV Case C-126/ 97 as well as the question of issue estoppel based on a decision of a Court in another country where enforcement is sought.

Orlando Gledhill QC appeared for Alstom.

A copy of the decision can be found here.