Title: Understanding Section 16: The Competence of Arbitral Tribunal to Rule on its Jurisdiction under The Arbitration and Conciliation Act
The principles underpinning Arbitration is party autonomy and limited court intervention. Section 16 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act exhibits such principles. This provision allows parties to empower the arbitral tribunal to decide its jurisdiction, indicating the tribunal’s autonomy. It incorporates the ‘Doctrine of Kompetenz-Kompetenz,’ originating from German law and acknowledged globally, which means ‘competence-competence.’ It essentially stipulates that an arbitration tribunal has the requisite authority to determine its jurisdiction.
The ‘Doctrine of Kompetenz-Kompetenz’
The term ‘Kompetenz-Kompetenz’ refers to the tribunal’s authority to rule on objections regarding its existence or scope. This doctrine has been embraced in many jurisdictions globally, including India, and forms the fundamental premise of Section 16 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act.
Under Section 16(1), a tribunal can determine its jurisdiction, even if the validity of the arbitration agreement itself is in dispute. This provision gives credence to and empowers the arbitrators, offering them a clear path to decide their jurisdiction without judicial intervention.
The Supreme Court in this case discussed the principles underlying Section 16 extensively. The court divided preliminary issues into three categories that the arbitral tribunal could decide. Firstly, issues which the tribunal should decide upon before embarking on arbitration proceedings. Secondly, issues that only the court can determine, warranting the postponement of arbitration proceedings. Lastly, issues left to the discretion of the arbitrator, whether to decide it as a preliminary issue or incorporate it in the final award.
Understanding Section 16(2) & 16(3)
Section 16(2) mandates that a plea contesting the tribunal’s jurisdiction must be raised at the earliest, no later than the submission of the statement of defense. However, parties who raised such pleas cannot later claim default entitlement to arbitration.
Section 16(3) allows for further consideration of jurisdiction even if a plea is rejected. The tribunal can admit a late plea if it deems it justifiable.
Case Law: M/s Lion Engineering Consultants Vs State of M.P & Anr
The Supreme Court in this case held that Section 16 doesn’t bar judicial authority from examining whether the court’s jurisdiction has been ousted. In fact, it is obligatory for the court to decide whether based on a party’s plea, the subject matter of the disagreement is arbitrable.
Section 16(5) and 16(6)
Section 16(5) stipulates that if a tribunal overrules a plea raised under Section 16(2), the party raising such plea can subsequently approach a court under Section 34 once the tribunal renders its final award.
Section 16(6), on the other hand, empowers the tribunal to proceed with arbitration if a plea raised under Section 16(2) is rejected. Subsequently, it may render an award.
Section 16 essentially reflects the significant shift towards arbitration autonomy and reduced judicial intervention. However, it must be balanced with the need for judicial oversight in instances where one party abuses the provision as a dilatory tactic. A harmonious reading of judicious intervention and respect for arbitral autonomy would go a long way in maintaining the arbitration process’s credibility.
Certainly, understanding such complex features of arbitration law becomes more straightforward with insights drawn from practical experience. This knowledge bridges the gap between legislation and its interpretation, furthering our comprehensive understanding of law.