Dubai Cassation Court rules FIDIC arbitration clause not enforceable
In a recent judgment, the highest Court in Dubai, the Dubai Cassation Court ruled that incorporating a FIDIC contract (general conditions) by reference into a transaction does not necessarily bind the parties to the arbitration clause therein that FIDIC contract (general conditions).
In this judgment, the Dubai Cassation Court also sheds light on the judicial approach with respect to Article 7(2)(b) of the Federal Arbitration Law which permits incorporating arbitration clauses by reference to any model contract, international agreement, or any other document containing an arbitration clause.
The dispute involved matters related to variation, site discharge, termination for convenience, and other issues related to the construction of a villa. The dispute quantum was around AED 20,000,000.
The employer sued the contractor before the Dubai Primary Court, which found that the Dubai Courts have jurisdiction over the dispute, and ruled in favor of the employer.
The contractor appealed and the Dubai Appeals Court ruled that the Dubai Courts do not have jurisdiction over the dispute due to the existence of the arbitration clause that is incorporated by reference between the parties.
The parties had indeed agreed that the 1987 FIDIC Red Book General Conditions of Contract shall govern the transaction.
Clause 67 of the 1987 FIDIC Red Book General Conditions contains a multi-tiered dispute resolution clause which requires that all disputes are to be referred to the engineer in the first instance for a decision and subsequently to arbitration under ICC rules.
The Dubai Appeals Court found that incorporating by general reference the entirety of the 1987 FIDIC Red Book General Conditions is sufficient to bind the parties to the arbitration clause contained therein the General Conditions.
The employer challenged the Dubai Appeals Court judgment before the Dubai Cassation Court.
The Dubai Cassation Court overturned the Appeals Court judgment and found that the arbitration clause was not enforceable and that the Dubai Courts had jurisdiction to adjudicate the dispute.
Referring to statute; the Cassation Court relied on Article 7 of the Federal Arbitration Law which requires arbitration agreements to be in writing. Although the judgment references the entirety of Article 7, the judgment continues to implicitly highlight the provisions of Article 7(2)(b) by elaborating on the permissibility of incorporating an arbitration clause by reference in a written contract to any model contract, international agreement, or any other document containing an arbitration clause if the reference is such as to make that arbitration clause part of the contract.
The parties did indeed agree that the 1987 FIDIC Red Book General Conditions shall govern the transaction, however, the Cassation Court found that because there was no explicit reference to the arbitration clause of the General Conditions, it cannot be construed that the parties had explicitly agreed to the arbitration clause therein.
The Dubai Cassation Court upheld the Dubai Primary Court’s reasoning, which provided a more in-depth analysis, as follows:
“An agreement to arbitration is considered when it is a referral contained in the original contract to the document that includes the arbitration clause if the referral is clear and explicit in adopting this condition, and the effect of the referral is only achieved if it includes an indication to the arbitration clause included in the document referring to it, yet if the referral to the aforementioned document is merely a referral in general for the texts of this document without specifying the aforementioned arbitration clause in particular that establishes the parties’ knowledge of its existence in the document, the referral does not extend to such arbitration clause, and the arbitration is not deemed agreed upon between the parties to the contract, and it is also decided that if there are appendices or schedules to the contract, it is not required that the parties sign them if the parties stipulate in the contract that these appendices or schedules are considered an integral part of the contract, considering that these appendices or schedules are nothing more than a detailed statement of what the parties have agreed in substantive issues, except that if these appendices or schedules include an exceptional condition such as the arbitration clause, which does not apply to the parties, unless signed by the parties…the contract concluded between the plaintiff and the defendant which governs the relationship that is the subject of the lawsuit does not evidence the will of the parties to bring into effect the arbitration clause to settle the disputes arising from the implementation of the contract.”
A special webinar has been prepared to discuss this judgment in collaboration with the Chartered Institute of Builders, which will take place on 19 April 2021. For more details and registration click here.
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Author: Mahmoud Abuwasel