Appeals under the English Arbitration Act 1996

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New statistics released by the English courts confirm that challenges to arbitral awards in England are rarely successful.

The English Commercial Court has released new figures giving an overview of the number of claims for appeal/challenge of arbitral awards brought under sections 68 and 69 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (the Act) over the last three years. Section 68, which is a mandatory provision of the Act, permits an award to be challenged on grounds of a serious irregularity. Section 69, meanwhile, is a non-mandatory provision of the Act which parties are free to contract out of in their arbitration agreement. This provision which allows for an appeal to the English courts on a point of law. The English Commercial Court has competence to deal with all matters relating to arbitration, which account for approximately 30 percent of its case load.

The statistics speak for themselves. Whilst 274 claims were brought under sections 68 and 69 of the Act, only six of these reported claims were ultimately successful. The hurdle to challenge an award in the English courts therefore remains exceptionally high. The statistics are summarised below.

Claims under section 68 (serious irregularity):

 Year  No. of Claims  Successful challenges
2015 34 1
2016 31 0
2017 - March 2018 47 0

Two recent challenges under section 68, however, have been successful (although they are not reflected in the published statistics): P v D [2017] EWHC 3273 (Comm) and Oldham v QBE Insurance (Europe) Ltd [2017] EWHC 3045 (Comm).

Claims under section 69 (appeal on a point of law):

 Year  No. of Claims  Permission for appeal   granted  Successful appeals
2015 60 20 4
2016 46 0 0
2017 - March 2018 56 10 1

It is unusual, particularly in the context of international arbitration, for parties to have the ability to appeal an arbitration award based on a point of law. Indeed, at the time of drafting the Act, there were calls for such a right to be abolished, for fear of undermining the parties' agreement to arbitrate. However, it is clear from the number of successful appeals that section 69 does not, in practice, present a hurdle to the enforcement of arbitral awards in England and Wales, with the requirement for permission to appeal (set out in the Act) clearly operating as an effective filter of unmeritorious appeals. In fact, the statistics reinforce the view that the English courts are reluctant to interfere in the arbitral process. This confirmation of the English court's pro-arbitration stance is welcome, particularly in light of the recent but short-lived speculation by some commentators that Brexit might affect England's positon as a key hub for international arbitration.

The full report can be viewed in full by clicking here.