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Section 34 of Arbitration Act and timely disposal: Two roads that never meet

The Supreme Court has attempted to narrow down the scope of the grounds in Section 34(2) and 34(2A) of the Act and has reiterated that a challenge must not involve a review on the merits or reappreciation of evidence. It has simultaneously held that an award may be set aside if there isa finding based on no evidence, or if an arbitral tribunal takes into account something irrelevant to the decision which it arrives at; or ignores vital evidence in arriving at its decision”.

Therefore, it is natural for counsel and courts to reappreciate evidence and enter into the merits of the dispute. Assuming there is a challenge to an award on the ground that the award has ignored vital evidence, the court will be forced to assess the vitality of the evidence, which is alleged to have been ignored.

The Supreme Court or the legislature ought to clarify and explain the context of “patent illegality” in Associated Builders and Ssanyong, in the context of how a court dealing with a challenge under Section 34(2A) -specifically an issue of evidence – cannot re-appreciate or enter into the merits of the dispute.

Till such time as there is no substantive solution, the Delhi High Court must direct counsel to restrict their grounds and specifically point out the ground on which they are seeking setting aside of the award. Adopting standards of pleadings similar to a special leave petition (SLP) before the Supreme Court consisting of a brief synopsis, list of dates and specific grounds may make the adjudication less cumbersome. If an award is challenged on the ground that vital evidence was ignored, the party must restrict the pleading to that specific piece of evidence and its impact on the award.

Source: Barandbench

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