Case comment on Prometheus Marine Pte Ltd v. Ann Rita King and another appeal [2017] SGCA 61

Muralli Rajaram and Claire Tan acted for the Respondent, Ms Ann Rita King in the Court of Appeal decision of Prometheus Marine Pte Ltd v. Ann Rita King and another appeal [2017] SGCA 61. The Appeals were dismissed by the Court of Appeal and the following issues were addressed in the Court of Appeal’s decision.

 

Delocalised Nullity

In the Court of Appeal decision of Prometheus Marine Pte Ltd v. Ann Rita King, one of the issues that arose was whether an arbitral award was a “delocalised nullity” if the Arbitrator failed to state whether the award was made under the International Arbitration Act (the “IAA”) or Arbitration Act (“AA”).

The Court of Appeal clarified that a delocalised arbitration is one that is detached from the control of the law of the seat of arbitration. The Court of Appeal held that unlike French Law, Singapore law does not support the notion that arbitral proceedings or awards can stand free from control of the national legal system of the seat of the arbitration.

In any event, the Court of Appeal found that in the present case, given that the Appellant accepts that the Arbitration was seated in Singapore, the issue of whether the Arbitration was delocalised was a non-starter. The Court said that it is apparent that the Arbitration was governed by Singapore law, and to this end, either the IAA or AA would apply. Thus, the Court held that the award in question was not a delocalised nullity.

 

Setting Aside of Arbitral Awards

Another issue that the Court of Appeal addressed was the issue of the Arbitrator having acted in excess of jurisdiction in making findings that were clearly irrational and by reformulating the Respondent’s case by making a finding on an issue that was not pleaded by the Respondent in the arbitration. The Appellant also argued that the Arbitrator had breached rules of natural justice by making a finding without giving parties any opportunity to make submissions on the same.

The Court of Appeal reiterated the trite law that an error of law or fact made by an arbitrator does not afford ground for setting aside an award. It is a critical foundation in arbitration that the parties choose their adjudicators and must also accept the consequences of their choices, which is reflected in the policy of minimal curial intervention in arbitration.

In any event, in the present case, the Court of Appeal held that the Arbitrator did not reformulate the Respondent’s case because parties had agreed on a Statement of Issues, and it was an agreed issue that was submitted for the Arbitrator’s resolution. Even though the issue was not explicitly pleaded, the Court was satisfied that the Appellant had not been taken by surprise especially since this issue was addressed in the Appellant’s closing submissions.

With regard to the contention that there was a breach of natural justice, the Court of Appeal found that this argument was directly contradicted by the terms of the Award and was satisfied that not only did the Arbitrator give the Appellant the opportunity to be heard, the Arbitrator had in fact accepted part of the testimony of the Appellant’s expert.

 

Apparent Bias

Finally, the issue of apparent bias on the part of the Judge below was also contended by the Appellants in the Appeals. The Appellant argued that the Honourable Judge’s decision below should be set aside on the basis of apparent bias. Amongst others, the Appellant argued that the following gave rise to a finding of apparent bias on the part of the Honourable Judge below:

(a) The Court’s choice of intemperate and injudicious language in the judgment below;
(b) The series of misfindings by the Court below; and
(c) The Court descended into the arena and prevented the Appellant from having a “fair-go”.

In dismissing the contentions raised by the Appellant, the Court of Appeal observed that:

(a) The Judge is entitled to express his/her impression of the case. The Judge is entirely entitled to put any provisional views or concerns to counsel for them to be addressed;
(b) Errors of findings in law or fact does not lead to or support the conclusion that a Judge was biased or apparently biased;
(c) On the facts of the present case, the allegation of apparent bias was not made out.

If you have any queries pertaining to this article, please feel free to contact Mr Muralli Rajaram at muralli@straitslaw.com.sg or Ms Claire Tan at clairetan@straitslaw.com.sg or the Straits Law Director who usually attends to your matters.