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英国法院驳回延长提起仲裁期限的申请(英国案例)

202073日,在Fimbank Plc v KCH Shipping Co Ltd [2020] EWHC 1765 (Comm) (03 July 2020)一案中,英格兰与威尔士高等法院认为,申请人Fimbank错过提起仲裁的期限的主要原因在于其律师的过错,本案申请不满足第123)条的两个条件:(a) 有关事由超出当事人在达成系争约定时的合理考虑范围且延期是正当的,或(b)一方当事人的行为使得另一方当事人遵守系争约定之严格条件变得不公正。因此,法院驳回了Fimbank所提出的延长提起仲裁期限的申请。

一、背景介绍

本案是一起因无单放货引起的争议。MW是船舶登记所有人, MWKCH签订光船承租合同,KCH是光船承租人。KCHClassic签订定期租船合同,Classic为定期承租人。ClassicTrafigura签订航次租船合同,Trafigura为航次租船人。

2018412日至18日,货物在未提交正本提单的情况下凭保函放货。Fimbank声称其是涉案指示提单的合法持有人。提单并入了ClassicTrafigura之间的航次租船合同中的仲裁条款,约定将争议提交伦敦仲裁。另外,提单并入了《海牙-维斯比规则》,该规则第3条第6款规定了12个月的索赔期限(允许当事人协议延长该期限)。即Fimbank最迟应在货物交付后1年内,向承运人就无单放货提交索赔申请。

2019327日,在一系列通信后,Mr Shepherd(定期租船人Classic的律师)向Fimbank确认,就提单项下或根据提单提出的索赔,船舶所有人准予Fimbank将索赔期限延长至201971日。(We now write to confirm that the owners of the m/v GIANT ACE hereby grant FIM bank plc a time extension up to and including1st July 2019 for the commencement of proceedings in respect of claims arising under or pursuant to the bills of lading…

201956日,Fimbank得知存在光船租赁合同,KCH是光船承租人。如果提单是光船租船提单,那么KCH才是承运人,Fimbank应当向KCH提出索赔。

Fimbank的律师Ms Fenech错误地以为,在2019327日批准延长索赔期限的“船舶所有人”指的是MW而不是KCH(实际上是KCH批准的延期),故对于KCH而言,其可能仍然适用未经延长的索赔期限,而该期限已经于2019418日届满。因此,Ms Fenech决定仍然对MW提起伦敦仲裁。

2019525日,Fimbank在新加坡高等法院对船舶及其所有人和光船承租人提起诉讼。2019625日,FimbankMW发送了仲裁通知。201979日,MW通知Fimbank,涉案提单非由其签发,其不是正确的争议当事人。

Fimbank根据《1996年仲裁法》第12条提出本案申请,请求延长其在伦敦向KCH提起仲裁的期限。法院对该申请作出如下认定。

二、法院认定

1. 相关法律

1996年仲裁法》第12条规定:

12.(法院延长仲裁程序开始之时间的权力及其他)

(1) 如约定将来发生之争议提交仲裁之仲裁协议约定:除非申请人在约定的期限内采取以下措施,否则其请求得被阻止或其权利丧失,

(a) 开始仲裁程序,或

(b) 仲裁程序得以开始前必须用尽其他争议解决程序,

法院亦可命令延长采取上述措施的时限。

(2) 仲裁协议的任一方当事人(经通知其他当事人后)可以申请此种命令,但仅在提出请求且用尽仲裁程序中任何获取延期的措施之后方可。

(3) 法院仅依下列条件作出命令:

(a) 有关事由超出当事人在达成系争约定时的合理考虑范围且延期是正当的,或

(b) 一方当事人的行为使得另一方当事人遵守系争约定之严格条件变得不公正。

(4) 法院可以其认为合适的条件延长此类期限,且无论以前(通过协议或此前的命令)确定的期限是否过期,法院均得予以延期。”

“12 Power of court to extend time for beginning arbitral proceedings, &c

(1)Where an arbitration agreement to refer future disputes to arbitration provides that a claim shall be barred, or the claimant’s right extinguished, unless the claimant takes within a time fixed by the agreement some step—

(a)to begin arbitral proceedings, or

(b)to begin other dispute resolution procedures which must be exhausted before arbitral proceedings can be begun,

the court may by order extend the time for taking that step.

(2)Any party to the arbitration agreement may apply for such an order (upon notice to the other parties), but only after a claim has arisen and after exhausting any available arbitral process for obtaining an extension of time.

(3)The court shall make an order only if satisfied—

(a)that the circumstances are such as were outside the reasonable contemplation of the parties when they agreed the provision in question, and that it would be just to extend the time, or

(b)that the conduct of one party makes it unjust to hold the other party to the strict terms of the provision in question.

(4)The court may extend the time for such period and on such terms as it thinks fit, and may do so whether or not the time previously fixed (by agreement or by a previous order) has expired[…]

Hamblen法官在SOS v. Inerco Trade [2010] 2 Lloyd'sRep 345案中所解释的那样,该条款是一个经过深思熟虑的修改,因为有种看法认为法院对《1950年仲裁法》第27的解释过于慷慨,从而干涉了当事人进行谈判。(As is well explained by Hamblen J in SOS v. Inerco Trade [2010] 2 Lloyd's Rep 345 at [47-8], this section was a deliberate change, introduced because there was a perception that the Courts had interpreted the predecessor section, section 27 of the 1950 Act, overgenerously - thereby interfering with the bargain that the parties had made.

因此,船舶所有人仅保持沉默,或未对需要遵守期限的当事人作出提醒不足以构成准予延长提起仲裁的期限的理由。AmbroseMaxwellCollett在《伦敦海事仲裁》(第四版)中总结了第12条的做法:“判例表明,该标准极难满足,可能只有在情况完全不同寻常的情况下才会批准延期。”(The approach to section 12 has been summarised thus by Ambrose, Maxwell and Collett in London Maritime Arbitration (4th ed.): The authorities suggest that the test will be extremely difficult to satisfy and an extension will probably only be granted if the circumstances are entirely out of the ordinary.

根据上述法律,法院需要考虑本案申请是否满足第123)条的两个条件:(a) 有关事由超出当事人在达成系争约定时的合理考虑范围且延期是正当的,或(b)一方当事人的行为使得另一方当事人遵守系争约定之严格条件变得不公正。

2. 12(3)(a)条:超出当事人合理考虑范围的情况

根据相关判例,为了符合第12(3)(a)条的规定,相关情况必须同时满足:(1)在订立合同时当事人无法合理考虑的情况;以及(2)若是如此,如果当事人考虑了这个问题,他们也会考虑到时间限制可能不适用。The effect of the authorities is that, to qualify under section 12(3)(a), the relevant circumstances must both have been (a) outside the reasonable contemplation of the parties when the contract was entered into; and (b) such that, if the parties had contemplated them, they would also have contemplated that the time bar might not apply.

在进行分析时,摆在法官面前的一个问题是,申请人的错误行为的相关性。KCH认为,律师或案件处理人员在错过期限方面所犯的错误、疏忽和过失不构成超出当事人合理考虑范围的情况;这种错过期限的理由很难说“并非不可能”发生。(KCH says that mistakes, oversights and negligence by lawyers or case handlers in relation to the missing of the time bar will not constitute a situation beyond the reasonable contemplation of the parties; that sort of reason for missing a time bar is hardlynot unlikely to occur.仅仅是遵守时间限制的疏忽充其量也不能被认为在当事人的合理考虑范围之外——过失在当事人的考虑范围之内,并且一方当事人承担其本人或代理人的疏忽所导致的后果不能被认为不公正。A simple negligent omission to comply with a time bar cannot without more be said to be outside the reasonable contemplation of the parties - negligence is within the parties' contemplation and it is not deemed unjust for a party to bear the consequences of its, or its agent's, negligence.

Fimbank认为,错过对KCH提起仲裁的期限属于超出当事人合理考虑范围的情况。该主张最初是基于隐瞒光船租船合同和通信而提出,目前该主张不再以此为依据,而是认为,在提单最初签发时,当事人不能合理地预见第三方(从提供保函的行为看来第三方具有经济利益)的存在会误导Fimbank错误地认为除KCH以外的当事人在提单下负有承运人责任。

在本案中,在原索赔期限届满之前,Fimbank获得了延长期限至201971日的许可。201956日,Fimbank的律师得知KCH是光船承租人,是需要承担责任的承运人,此时距离新期限届满还有将近2个月时间。实际上,经延长的时间被错过,仅仅是因为Fimbank的律师经过深思熟虑后决定不向KCH索赔,也不调查延长索赔期限的许可是由谁作出。

法院要回答的第一个问题是:从总体上看,这些情况是否超出了当事人订立合同时的合理考虑范围?法院认为答案是否定的。这种情况只不过是Fimbank的律师所犯的错误,加上与其他各方的通信无辜地加强了错误,以及其他进一步错误的累加。此外,最后的决定实际上并不是由信件中的任何内容所导致。错过期限不属于超出当事人合理考虑范围的情况。法院不认为,在一个无辜导致Fimbank的律师误入歧途的行为之外再犯一个错误会超出合理考虑范围。(The first of these is: Were the circumstances, viewed overall, outside the reasonable contemplation of the parties when the contract was entered into? To this the answer is no. The circumstances are no more than the mistake, compounded (but not caused) by correspondence with other parties innocently reinforcing that mistake, compounded by a yet further error. Further that final decision was not realistically caused by anything in the correspondence. That situation is not something the parties would not reasonably contemplate. I do not accept that a mistake on top of conduct innocently leading Ms Fenech astray is outside what would be reasonably contemplated. There is no relevant "more" to take this case outside the normal consequences of mistakes.

法院要回答的第二个问题是:如果当事人已经考虑到可能错过索赔期限这个问题,他们是否也考虑过时间限制可能不适用?法院认为答案也是否定的。如果当事人考虑到这些情况,他们无疑会作出不同的回答。KCH无疑会认为,索赔人错过索赔期限正好能使船舶所有人获益。如前文所述,船舶所有人有权保持沉默,不对错过期限作出提醒,如果他们这样做,法院不会根据第12条延长提起仲裁的期限。因为该条旨在支持而不是干预当事人之间的谈判。(The second question is: if the parties had contemplated them, would they also have contemplated that the time bar might not apply? To this also the answer is no. If the parties had contemplated these circumstances doubtless they would have returned different answers. KCH would doubtless have thought this fell well within the ambit of circumstances where the time bar may bring a windfall to the owners. One must bear in mind, as I have noted above, that owners are entitled to stay silent, and if they do so this court will not extend time under section 12. That is because the section is designed to uphold the parties' bargain and not to interfere with it.

3. 12(3)(b)条:被申请人的行为使得不准予延期变得不公正

根据该理由请求延长期限的相关标准是“一方当事人的行为使得另一方当事人遵守系争约定之严格条件变得不公正”。申请人必须证明被申请人的某种积极行为使得被申请人依赖期限变得不公正。被申请人的行为不一定是错过期限的唯一或甚至主要原因。确切说如何提出因果关系要求在某种程度上是争议的点。(The respondent's behaviour does not have to be the sole or even the predominant cause of the failure to meet the deadline. Precisely how one puts the causation requirement was to some extent in issue.

Fimbank认为只要被申请人的行为可被认为以某种方式“促成”期限的错过就已足够。KCH认为“必须证明某些行为是未能遵守时限的原因,或与不给予救济将造成的不公正有关”,其判断标准是“申请人能否将其未能遵守时间限制归咎于被申请人的行为”。就本案而言,法院不认为在这点上存在相关的区别。显然,必须存在某种因果关系。被申请人的行为无需是错误的或应受责备的,这是共同的基础。被申请人的无意行为就已足够。(On this point I am not persuaded that there is a relevant distinction, certainly for the purposes of this case. There must be some causative nexus, it is plain. It was common ground that there is no need for the respondent's conduct to be wrongful or blameworthy. Unintentional conduct on the part of the respondent may suffice.

201936,定期承租人Classic的律师Mr ShepherdKCH确认“其有权代表KCH同意延长期限”,KCH随后回复表示“无异议”。Mr Shepherd310得知KCH是光船承租人。Mr Shepherd2019327日代表KCH告知Fimbank的律师“船舶所有人”(指KCH)已同意延长期限。然而,在这封批准延长期限的关键信函中,Mr Shepherd的措辞有些令人遗憾,他仅告知Fimbank的律师Ms Fenech“船舶所有人”批准延长期限,并未告知船舶处于光船租赁期间,批准延期的是KCH。这使得Fimbank的律师误以为批准延期的是船舶登记所有人MW。然而,这并未导致期限被错过。如果所有的事实都以透明的方式呈现出来,Fimbank的律师Ms Fenech就会知道她已经从正确的人KCH那里获得了延期。

除以上情况外,关于不公正的问题需要在所有的情况下加以权衡。Ms Fenech对于错过期限要负很大部分的责任。从记录来看,如果Ms Fenech采取不那么消极的方式,她可以早点发现光船承租人KCH的存在。在201956日得知KCH的存在后,她甚至没有询问批准延期是否由KCH作出,该疏忽更应该对最终错过期限负责。

最后,错过期限可以归结为双方的错误,而判例表明,立法意图是法院不应恢复《仲裁法》第27条所行使的广泛自由裁量权,这是需要权衡的背景(Ultimately there is a balance to be drawn against a background where the missing of the time bar comes down to errors on both sides, and where the authorities indicate that the intention was that the Court should not revert to the broad discretion asexercised under section 27 of the Act.)在本案中,Mr Shepherd担任KCH的临时代理人,其行为造成了混乱,但并非蓄意歪曲。Fimbank的律师Ms Fenech的过错则难辞其咎。法院认为,在这种情况下,不能得出结论认为KCH的行为(通过Mr Shepherd)使得要求Fimbank严格遵守期限变得不公平。

综上所述,法院认为,本案申请不满足第123)条的两个条件:(a)有关事由超出当事人在达成系争约定时的合理考虑范围且延期是正当的,或(b)一方当事人的行为使得另一方当事人遵守系争约定之严格条件变得不公正。因此,法院驳回了Fimbank所提出的延长提起仲裁期限的申请。

三、评论

在本案中,提单持有人Fimbank在一年的索赔期限届满前获得了“船舶所有人”批准的延期许可。在原索赔期限已经届满,但新索赔期限届满之前近2个月,Fimbank的律师Ms Fenech得知存在光船承租人KCHKCH才是真正的承运人。在这种情况下,Ms Fenech误以为准予延期的是船舶登记所有人MW,并认为对光船承租人KCH只适用已经届满的旧期限,在错误的认知下,Ms Fenech作出了错误的决定:继续向错误的争议当事人MW提起仲裁,而不对真正的争议当事人KCH采取任何行动,也没有询问批准延期的是谁,最终导致了错过对KCH提起仲裁的期限。

Fimbank的律师在错过期限方面犯了如下错误:没有通过积极的行动尽早识别承运人;在识别承运人后又作出错误的决策。Ms Fenech的逻辑难以理解,既然已经得知船舶登记所有人MW不是承运人,那么针对MW的任何索赔都会遭遇其不是承运人的抗辩。

在这种情况下,Ms Fenech的正确做法是理清准予延期的批准是由谁作出。如果Ms Fenech进行询问,问题将迎刃而解,她将发现已经从真正的承运人KCH处获得了延期许可。即使询问的结果不令人满意(即延期许可由MW作出,而MW不是真正的承运人),她也可以采取相应措施。一味地等待和逃避并不能使情况得到任何改善。