This case relates to a dispute between Eastern European Engineering Ltd. (“EEEL”) and Vijay Construction (Proprietary) Ltd. (“VCL”), both of which are incorporated in the Seychelles, arising out of the construction of a hotel resort and spa. In 2011, the parties had entered into six materially identical contracts. Disputes arose and EEEL eventually terminated the contracts. EEEL referred the disputes to an International Chamber of Commerce (“ICC”) arbitration seated in Paris. A sole arbitrator was appointed, who issued an award in November 2014 in EEEL’s favor (the “Award”).
VCL challenged the Award in the French courts on three grounds. The French court dismissed VCL’s challenge. Although VCL initially appealed that decision, it did not purse the appeal and it was subsequently dismissed in May 2017. Concurrently, in January 2015, VCL also initiated proceedings in the Seychelles, seeking to set aside the Award on essentially the same grounds as those on which the challenges were based in the French proceedings. In April 2017, the Seychellois court dismissed all of VCL’s challenges and held that the Award was enforceable. VCL, however, successfully appealed that decision because, under Seychellois law, there is no power to order enforcement on the basis that the New York Convention had been previously repudiated by the Seychelles. The merits of the substantive grounds of the lower court’s decision were not considered in the appeal.
In August 2015, EEEL successfully obtained an order from the English High Court to enforce the Award in England and Wales and to enter judgment against VCL (the “August 2015 Order”). In October 2015, VCL applied under section 103 of the Arbitration Act 1996 to set aside the August 2015 Order. That application was stayed while the French and the Seychellois proceedings were pending. EEEL argued that VCL’s application should be denied because of issue estoppel and public policy on finality. As to issue estoppel, EEEL argued that the conditions were satisfied because the decision of the French court was a final merits decision in a court of competent jurisdiction between the same parties.
The English High Court denied VCL’s application to set aside the August 15 Order. First, the English court agreed that, in relation to VCL’s challenge based on jurisdiction, VCL was estopped as VCL’s argument in the English proceeding appeared to be exactly the same as that which was made in the French proceeding. As to VCL’s challenge on the ground of procedural unfairness, the court found that VCL’s argument was “slightly different” in the English proceeding, and thus the court considered the merits of the challenges. In considering each of VCL’s challenges, the court found that they failed. Thus, the English court did not have to reach the question of public policy on finality. It, however, noted that it would “have concluded that the balance came down in favor of upholding the public policy on finality,” explaining that the facts here, where VCL had sought to raise substantially the same challenges to the Award in two other courts, one of which had a full evidentiary hearing, “are circumstances which would weigh very heavily against allowing VCL a third challenge.”