In a judgment handed down on 15 September 2016, the Honourable Judge Waksman QC, sitting in the High Court in London, ruled that arbitration courts could award third-party financing costs as “other costs” collectible under the Arbitration Act of 1996. The full circumstances and facts surrounding the opinion are currently unavailable, as we await release of a detailed and final decision.
Here is what we do know. The case involved a contract dispute concerning operation of an offshore drilling platform. The two parties were Norscot Rig Management and Essar Oilfield Services. Norscot applied for third-party financing to fund its action against Essar. The arbitration Tribunal awarded Norscot at least part of its third-party financing costs.
Prior decisions in other common law jurisdictions have approved the existence and validity of third-party funding generally in the context of litigation. In Bayens v Kinross Gold Corporation, 2013 ONSC 4974, the trustee plaintiffs, acting on behalf of the Musician’s Pension Fund of Canada, moved for approval of an underlying litigation funding agreement designed primarily to protect the class counsel from the risk of an indemnity where the Defendant won an award on adverse costs. The Ontario Superior Court approved the legality of the agreement, specifying that in litigation all such arrangements would need to be disclosed and receive court approval. The recent London High Court ruling took the matter a step further, awarding some portion of the applicant’s costs for the expense of the third-party funding arrangement itself.
As we await the final published decision, we anticipate Judge Waksman’s reasoning might in some way addresses one of the following three questions.
1) Since the United Kingdom is a leading ‘costs-follows-the-event’ jurisdiction, would that make its High Court justices more likely to acknowledge the reasonableness of recovery of third-party funding costs? Will higher courts from ‘bear-your-own-costs’ jurisdictions (such as the United States) wind up approaching third-party funding costs more skeptically?
2) Are third-party costs presumptively unreasonable, but only available in specific cases where the facts especially merit their recovery? Or will third-party funding costs be seen as an increasing reality in a world where transactional financing costs are already prevalent and recoverable?
3) Should a Tribunal’s award of third-party funding costs be explicitly subject to appeal, such that a party awarded third-party funding fees must know that this award will become a roadblock to immediate enforcement? And if so, should courts of the seat of the arbitration bifurcate enforcement of the ‘normal’ and special ‘third-party funding’ costs awards, and allow enforcement of the rest of the award while the third-party funding portion of the award awaits and undergoes the lengthy. and also perhaps expensive process of judicial review?
4) Will Chinese courts actively support third-party funding schemes? Third-party financing arrangements have already made an appearance, particularly in off-shore arbitrations where the fees are relatively high. Will courts view it as beneficial to resolve more commercial disputes? Or, will courts believe it would encourage more litigation/arbitration or perhaps discourage settlement?