CFJ and another v CFL and another and other matters 2023 SGHC-I 1 - 31 January 2023
Arbitration - Award - Recourse against award - Setting aside - Oil and Gas Fields
How strictly does an arbitral tribunal have to adhere to the pleadings (or memorials) of the parties? In what circumstances is the fair hearing rule not satisfied? When is there apparent bias as regards an arbitrator? These questions arise in the three applications before us which relate to a long-running arbitration between two substantial energy groups that began over a dispute regarding the sale of shares in a member of one to members of the other. Specifically on the first question, one party alleges that the arbitral tribunal should have strictly followed the case as framed in the pleadings filed by the parties and that its failure to do so was a breach of natural justice or an act in excess of the tribunal’s jurisdiction. That party also calls into question the conduct of the arbitral tribunal and the impartiality of one of its members, specifically its President.
These are not uncommon grounds for challenge and a pragmatic approach must be adopted by the court in resolving such challenges when exercising its supervisory jurisdiction over arbitral tribunals and their awards. As recently observed by the Court of Appeal in CAJ and another v CAI and another appeal  1 SLR 505 (“CAJ”) at : “it is not common in Singapore for awards to be set aside, and the courts have only done so in exceptional cases when the grounds are clearly made out” [emphasis in original]. This strikes a balance between the need to respect the autonomy of arbitration proceedings and to give effect to the principle of minimal curial intervention, while ensuring that meritorious challenges are properly ventilated: CAJ at . Parties who agree to arbitrate their dispute do not have a right to a “correct” decision, but only a right to a decision that is within the ambit of their agreement to arbitrate, and a decision that is arrived at following a fair process. These are salutary observations. With this in mind, we consider the background to the three applications before us.
Originating Summons (OS) 7 and OS 8
Toby Landau QC (Essex Court Chambers Duxton (Singapore Group Practice)) (instructed), Liew Wey-Ren Colin (Colin Liew LLC) for the plaintiffs;
Yeo Khirn Hai Alvin SC, Chan Hock Keng, Jill Ann Koh Ying, Low Sze Hui Jasmine, Ho Yi Jie, Tang Xi-Rui Charlotte and Liang Fang Ling Elisabeth (WongPartnership LLP) for the defendants.
Toby Landau QC (Duxton Hill Chambers (Singapore Group Practice)) (instructed), Liew Wey-Ren Colin (Colin Liew LLC) for the plaintiffs;
Davinder Singh SC, Lin Xianyang Timothy and Fong Cheng Yee David (Davinder Singh Chambers LLC) (instructed), Tang Xi-Rui Charlotte (WongPartnership LLP) for the defendants.