By Prof Jonathan Hill, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School).
A leading commentator has observed that ‘[t]he choice of the law applicable to an international commercial arbitration agreement is a complex subject’ (Born, International Commercial Arbitration (2nd edn, 2014) p 472). This complexity is reflected by the case law illustrating that the courts of different countries adopt different approaches to certain common scenarios. One area of divergence is the case where parties to a contract containing an arbitration clause choose state A as the seat of arbitration, but the law of state B as the law governing the matrix contract: which law governs the arbitration clause – the law of the seat or the law of the country chosen to govern the substantive contract?
Some legal systems, influenced in part by the doctrine separability (according to which a contractual arbitration clause is, conceptually, treated as a contract separate and independent from the matrix contract) and article V.1.a of the New York Convention of 1958, take the view that, in the absence of an express choice by the parties of the law applicable to the arbitration clause, the law of the seat should govern questions of material validity. English law, however, has never taken this view – although, arguably, the Court of Appeal came close to doing so in C v D  EWCA Civ 1282. Continue reading