Interest Update

July 10, 2014

Two recent cases have discussed issues relating to interest.  Firstly, Sonatrach v Statoil looked at post-award interest and, secondly, Martrade Shipping & Transport GmbH v United Enterprises Corporation looked at the application of the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1988 to international arbitration.   A more comprehensive review of the authorities on interest, setting the two cases in context, is available here.

In England there is a useful statute for the victims of late payment: the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1988.  The Act prescribes interest that is not intended to be compensatory rather it is penal and aimed to act as a deterrent to late payment.  The Act applies to domestic transactions but also has limited international reach.  This is because s.12 provides that where parties to a contract with an international dimension have chosen English law to govern the contract, the choice of English law is not, of itself, sufficient to attract the application of the Act.  To do so there must be a “significant connection” between the contract and England or the contract must be one that would be governed by English law apart from the choice of law.  The application of the Act to international arbitration albeit seated in England was reviewed by Popplewell J in Martrade Shipping & Transport GmbH v United Enterprises CorportationPopplewll J identified thesorts of factors that would amount to a significant connection are (a) where the place of performance of obligations under the contract is England; (b) one of the parties is English; (c) the parties carry on some relevant part of their business in England; and (d) the economic effect of non-payment may be felt in England.  A London arbitration clause alone is insufficient connection.

Finally, it is appropriate to consider whether any and if so what interest should be awarded post-award. In principle, it would seem logical that nearly every award should carry interest post-award down to payment.  It is difficult to conceive of circumstances that would make it appropriate to not award such interest. It is incumbent on the party claiming interest to seek such an award and for the arbitral tribunal to consider making an award in those terms. Failure to do so can create difficulties as any judgment entered so as to enforce the award can usually only be in the terms of the award.  For example, §66(2) of the 1996 Arbitration Act states “ . . . judgment may be entered in terms of the award.” If the award does not deal with post-award interest, there is nothing an enforcing court can do: Walker v Rome.  As Aikens J (as he then was) said in that case “Section 66 of the 1996 Act enables the court to embody an award made by the tribunal in a judgment of the court.  But it does not empower the court to add an extra judgment for post-award interest when the arbitrators have not made such an award ... Any attempt by the court to add a judgment for interest would be an intervention by the court ... and so would infringe the principle set out in s.1(c) of the 1996 Act.”

If an award does not provide for post-award interest and payment is not made promptly, it may be appropriate to enter judgment in the terms of the award; for judgments may, depending on the jurisdiction, carry interest—e.g., in England under the Judgments Act 1838 judgments carry interest at the rate of 8% on a simple (non-compounded) basis. 

The authorities on this area were reviewed by Flaux J in Sonatrach v StatoilFlaux J observed thatAikens J had not overlooked the statutory interest in Walker v Rome for Aiken J had said a little earlier in the judgment: “If interest was payable at all after the date of the judgment, then it would be payable under the Judgments Act 1838 ...”

Aikens J was to make the same point in Pirtek (UK) Ltd v Deanswood Ltd in a case where the court held that an arbitrator had no jurisdiction to make an award on interest in respect of a previous award where no interest had been awarded.  He said: “ ... the difficulty could have been avoided by a much earlier application to make the Award a judgment.  Judgment Act interest would then have run on the sum awarded.”

As the above cases demonstrate once judgment has been entered under s.66 (or s.101(2) in the case of a foreign New York Convention award) of the Arbitration Act 1996 that judgment has the same characteristics as any other judgment and carries interest accordingly: the obligation to honour the award merges into a judgment which carries interest: see Dalmia v National Bank and Gater Assets Ltd v Nak Naftogaz (No. 2).  In the latter case Beatson J (as he then was) said: “The essential difference is that the obligation to honour an award arises by virtue of the agreement of the parties, whereas in the case of a judgment it follows from the powers of the court.”


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