The Supreme Court on November 26, 2019, in the case of Perkins Eastman Architects DPC v. HSCC (India) Ltd.
, has held that a person who has an interest in the outcome or decision of the dispute must not have the power to appoint a sole arbitrator.
A Division Bench comprising of Justice Uday Umesh Lalit
and Justice Indu Malhotra
was hearing an application filed to seek appointment of a sole Arbitrator in accordance with clause 24 of the Contract executed between the parties. Clause 24 of the Contract empowered the Chairman and Managing Director of the company to make the appointment of a sole arbitrator and said Clause also stipulates that no person other than a person appointed by such Chairman and Managing Director of the respondent would act as an arbitrator.
The court placed reliance on a judgment in TRF Limited v. Energo Engineering Projects Limited
, wherein the court had held that the Managing Director became ineligible by operation of law to act as an arbitrator, he could not nominate another person to act as an arbitrator and that once the identity of the Managing Director as the sole arbitrator was lost, the power to nominate someone else as an arbitrator was also obliterated. Applying the similar invalidity in the present case, the court observed: “the Managing Director was found incompetent, it was because of the interest that he would be said to be having in the outcome or result of the dispute. The element of invalidity would thus be directly relatable to and arise from the interest that he would be having in such outcome or decision. If that be the test, similar invalidity would always arise and spring even in the second category of cases. If the interest that he has in the outcome of the dispute, is taken to be the basis for the possibility of bias, it will always be present irrespective of whether the matter stands under the first or second category of cases. We are conscious that if such deduction is drawn from the decision of this Court in TRF Limited, all cases having clauses similar to that with which we are presently concerned, a party to the agreement would be disentitled to make any appointment of an Arbitrator on its own and it would always be available to argue that a party or an official or an authority having interest in the dispute would be disentitled to make appointment of an Arbitrator.”
The court further added: “But, in our view that has to be the logical deduction from TRF Limited. Paragraph 50 of the decision shows that this Court was concerned with the issue, "whether the Managing Director, after becoming ineligible by operation of law, is he still eligible to nominate an Arbitrator" The ineligibility referred to therein, was as a result of operation of law, in that a person having an interest in the dispute or in the outcome or decision thereof, must not only be ineligible to act as an arbitrator but must also not be eligible to appoint anyone else as an arbitrator and that such person cannot and should not have any role in charting out any course to the dispute resolution by having the power to appoint an arbitrator. The next sentences in the paragraph, further show that cases where both the parties could nominate respective arbitrators of their choice were found to be completely a different situation. The reason is clear that whatever advantage a party may derive by nominating an arbitrator of its choice would get counter balanced by equal power with the other party. But, in a case where only one party has a right to appoint a sole arbitrator, its choice will always have an element of exclusivity in determining or charting the course for dispute resolution. Naturally, the person who has an interest in the outcome or decision of the dispute must not have the power to appoint a sole arbitrator. That has to be taken as the essence of the amendments brought in by the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 (Act 3 of 2016) and recognised by the decision of this Court in TRF Limited.” [Read Judgment]