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SICC dismissed application to set aside an arbitral award on grounds of breach of natural justice

In the recent case of CMJ and another v CML and another [2021] SGHC(I) 20, the plaintiffs (CMJ) sought to set aside an award made under the rules of Singapore International Arbitration Centre, on the grounds that there were breaches of natural justice. CMJ alleged that they were not given a fair opportunity to present their case and that the Tribunal failed to apply its mind to important aspects of their submissions in the arbitration proceedings, which are expressed as follows:

1.     CMJ were denied a full opportunity to present their case from the Tribunal’s failure to allow them          to admit two witness statements to respond to new factual issues raised for the first time.
2.     The Tribunal denied CMJ’s expert the chance to state his reasons and areas of disagreement by              ordering, among other things, that the parties’ experts must agree on the list of areas of non-                agreement, failing which the Tribunal will not accept any report on the areas of non-agreement.            This resulted in CMJ being denied a full opportunity of responding to CML’s case; and
3.     The Tribunal, in failing to give adequate reasons as required under Article 31(2) of the Model Law,          failed to apply its mind to important aspects of CMJ’s submissions on the issue of the existence,            scope and nature of CML’s duty.

The SICC’s Decision
In dismissing the application, the Singapore International Commercial Court (“SICC”) held that the first issue above was a matter of procedure and the Tribunal did its best to be fair to both parties consistent with adhering to the existing procedural timeline. Thus, the court does not consider that what the Tribunal did falls out of the range of what a reasonable and fair-minded tribunal might have done in the circumstances of this case. Further, there cannot be a breach of natural justice if a party was given an opportunity by the tribunal to adduce evidence but did not avail itself of that opportunity, save in circumstances where it considered that the opportunity was an insufficient one and brought that to the attention of the tribunal at the material time. However, this was not done by CMJ.

Further, the SICC concluded that the Tribunal did act in a way that was both fair and reasonable in the circumstances of this case. In doing so, the court particularly noted that CMJ were allocated an extra 1.5 hours for oral presentations by their experts and a total of 4 hours for presenting their case so as to be able to deal with issues that arose and that these issues were then canvassed fully in the written closing submissions. Additionally, the course adopted by the Tribunal was calculated to avoid the possibility of having to adjourn the evidentiary hearing.  

This decision emphasises the Singapore pro-arbitration stance and an  application to set aside an arbitral award would only be allowed in exceptional circumstances.

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