9 Jan 2010

Factual determination by arbitrator final: Supreme Court

Giving thrust to the methods of alternate dispute resolution and giving higher sanctity to arbitral awards, the Supreme Court in a recent decision has declared the law that factual determinations made by the arbitration panel are not to be re-appreciated by High Courts and the award must only  be set-aside for perversity / manifest illegality etc. 

On this aspect, the  Supreme Court held that "We are of the considered opinion that the High Court committed a serious error in re-appreciating the evidence led by the parties before the arbitrator" and went on to refer its earlier decisions on the settled law as under;

13. The law with regard to scope and ambit of the jurisdiction of the courts to interfere with an arbitration award has been settled in a catena of judgments of this Court. We may make a reference here only to some of the judgments. In the case of State of Rajasthan vs. Puri Construction Company Limited. and Anothers. (1994) 6 SCC 485, this Court observed as follows: "The arbitrator is the final arbiter for the dispute between the parties and it is not open to challenge the award on the ground that the arbitrator has drawn his own conclusion or has failed to appreciate the facts. In Sudarsan Trading Co. v. Govt. of Kerala 1989 Indlaw SC 463 it has been held by this Court that there is a distinction between disputes as to the jurisdiction of the arbitrator and the disputes as to in what way that jurisdiction should be exercised. There may be a conflict as to the power of the arbitrator to grant a particular remedy. One has to determine the distinction between an error within the jurisdiction and an error in excess of the jurisdiction. Court cannot substitute its own evaluation of the conclusion of law or fact to come to the conclusion that the arbitrator had acted contrary to the bargain between the parties. Whether a particular amount was liable to be paid is a decision within the competency of the arbitrator. By purporting to construe the contract the court cannot take upon itself the burden of saying that this was contrary to the contract and as such beyond jurisdiction. If on a view taken of a contract, the decision of the arbitrator on certain amounts awarded is a possible view though perhaps not the only correct view, the award cannot be examined by the court. Where the reasons have been given by the arbitrator in making the award the court cannot examine the reasonableness of the reasons. If the parties have selected their own forum, the deciding forum must be conceded the power of appraisement of evidence. The arbitrator is the sole judge of the quality as well as the quantity of evidence and it will not be for the court to take upon itself the task of being a judge on the evidence before the arbitrator.
In the case of Municipal Corpn. Of Delhi v. Jagan Nath Ashok Kumar 1987(4) SCC 497, it has been held by this Court that appraisement of evidence by the arbitrator is ordinarily never a matter which the court questions and considers. It may be possible that on the same evidence the court may arrive at a different conclusion than the one arrived at by the arbitrator but that by itself is no ground for setting aside the award. It has also been held in the said decision that it is difficult to give an exact definition of the word `reasonable'. Reason varies in its conclusions according to the idiosyncrasies of the individual and the time and circumstances in which thinks. In cases not covered by authority, the verdict of a jury or the decision of a judge sitting as a jury usually determines what is `reasonable' in each particular case. The word reasonable has in law prima facie meaning of reasonable in regard to those circumstances of which the actor, called on to act reasonably knows or ought to know. An arbitrator acting as a judge has to exercise a discretion informed by tradition, methodized by analogy disciplined by system and subordinated to the primordial necessity or order in the social life. Therefore, where reasons germane and relevant for the arbitrator to hold in the manner he did, have been indicated, it cannot be said that the reasons are unreasonable."
14. In the case of Arosan Enterprises Ltd. vs. Union of India, (1999) 9 SCC 449, this Court upon analysis of numerous earlier decisions, held as follows: "Be it noted that by reasons of a long catena of cases, it is now a well-settled principle of law that re-appraisal of evidence by the court is not permissible and as a matter of fact exercise of power by the court to reappraise the evidence is unknown to proceedings under section 30 of the Arbitration Act. In the event of there being no reasons in the award, question of interference of the court would not arise at all. In the event, however, there are reasons, the interference would still be not available within the jurisdiction of the Court unless of course, there exist a total perversity in the award or the judgment is based on a wrong proposition of law. In the event however two views are possible on a question of law as well, the court would not be justified in interfering with the award. The common phraseology "error apparent on the face of the record" does not itself, however, mean and imply closer scrutiny of the merits of documents and materials on record. The Court as a matter of fact cannot substitute its evaluation and come to the conclusion that the arbitrator had acted contrary to the bargain between the parties. If the view of the arbitrator is a possible view the award or the reasoning contained therein cannot be examined.........".
15. This view has been reiterated by this Court in the case of Oil & Natural Gas Corporation Ltd. vs. SAW Pipes Ltd. as follows: "In the light of the aforesaid decisions, in our view, there is much force in the contention raised by the learned counsel for the appellant. However, the learned senior counsel Mr. Dave submitted that even if the award passed by the arbitral tribunal is erroneous, it is settled law that when two views are possible with regard to interpretation of statutory provisions and or facts, the Court would refuse to interfere with such award. It is true that if the arbitral tribunal has committed mere error of fact law in reaching its conclusion on the disputed question submitted to it for adjudication then the Court would have no jurisdiction to interfere with the award. But, this would depend upon reference made to the arbitrator : (a) if there is a general reference for deciding the contractual dispute between the parties and if the award is based on erroneous legal proposition, the Court could interfere; (b) It is also settled law that in a case of reasoned award, the Court can set aside the same if it is, on the face of it, erroneous on the provision of law or its application; (c) If a specific question of law is submitted to the arbitrator, erroneous decision in point of law does not make the award bad, so as to permit of its being set aside, unless the Court is satisfied that the arbitrator had proceeded illegally."
16. In the M/s. Kwality Manufacturing Corporation vs. Central Warehousing Corporation it was held: "At the outset, it should be noted that the scope of interference by courts in regard to arbitral awards is limited. A court considering an application under Section 30 or 33 of the Act, does not sit in appeal over the findings and decision of the arbitrator. Nor can it re-assess or re-appreciate evidence or examine the sufficiency or otherwise of the evidence. The award of the arbitrator is final and the only grounds on which it can be challenged are those mentioned in Sections 30 and 33 of the Act. Therefore, on the contentions urged, the only question that arose for consideration before the High court was, whether there was any error apparent on the face of the award and whether the arbitrator misconducted himself or the proceedings."
17. Again it is reiterated in the judgment of Madhya Pradesh Housing Board vs. Progressive Writers and Publishers (2009) 5 SCC as follows: "The finding arrived at by the arbitrator in this regard is not even challenged by the Board in the proceedings initiated by it under Section 30 of the Act. It is fairly well settled and needs no restatement that the award of the arbitrator is ordinarily final and the courts hearing applications under Section 30 of the Act do not exercise any appellate jurisdiction. Reappraisal of evidence by the court is impermissible."
18. In this case, the Supreme Court notice the earlier judgment in the case of Ispat Engineering & Foundry Works, B.S. City, Bokaro vs. Steel Authority of India, B.S. City, Bokaro [(2001) 6 SCC 347] wherein it was held as follows: "4. Needless to record that there exists a long catena of cases through which the law seems to be rather well settled that the reappraisal of evidence by the court is not permissible. This Court in one of its latest decisions [Arosan Enterprises Ltd. v. Union of India (1999) 9 SCC 449] upon consideration of decisions in Champsey Bhara & Co. v. Jivraj Balloo Spg. & Wvg. Co. Ltd. [Air 1923 PC 66], Union of India v. Bungo Steel Furniture (P) Ltd. [1967 1 SCR 324], N. Chellappan v. Secy., Kerala SEB [(1975) 1 SCC 289], Sudarshan Trading Co. v. Govt. of Kerala [(1989) 2 SCC 38], State of Rajasthan v. Puri Construction Co. Ltd. [(1994) 6 SCC 485] as also in Olympus Superstructures (P) Ltd. v. Meena Vijay Khetan [(1999) 5 SCC 651] has stated that reappraisal of evidence by the court is not permissible and as a matter of fact, exercise of power to reappraise the evidence is unknown to a proceeding under Section 30 of the Arbitration Act, 1940. This court in Arosan Enterprises categorically stated that in the event of there being no reason in the award, question of interference of the court would not arise at all. In the event, however, there are reasons, interference would still be not available unless of course, there exist a total perversity in the award or the judgment is based on a wrong proposition of law. This Court went on to record that in the event, however, two views are possible on a question of law, the court would not be justified in interfering with the award of the arbitrator if the view taken recourse to is a possible view. The observations of Lord Dunedin in Champsey Bhara stand accepted and adopted by this Court in Bungo Steel Furniture to the effect that the court had no jurisdiction to investigate into the merits of the case or to examine the documentary and oral evidence in the record for the purposes of finding out whether or not the arbitrator has committed an error of law. The court as a matter of fact, cannot substitute its own evaluation and come to the conclusion that the arbitrator had acted contrary to the bargain between the parties."

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