Interest Update

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.  It is convenient to use those cases as an opportunity to review some basic principles.

Most references are concerned with recovering damages. With damages there is normally an award of interest.  The general principle as stated in Panchand Freres SA v. R. Pagnan & Fratelli[1] is that “In a commercial transaction, if the plaintiff has been out of his money for a period, the usual order is that the Defendant should pay interest for the time for which the sum has been outstanding.”

A failure to award interest can cause substantial prejudice to a party and in CNH Global NV v PGN Logistics Ltd[2] an award that was corrected by the Tribunal so as to include interest (inadvertently omitted from the original award) and which was done when the tribunal was functus, was allowed to stand as whilst it was an irregularity in the reference it did not cause substantial injustice within the terms of s.68 Arbitration Act 1996.

Approaches

In Europe and the U.S., an award of interest is common place.  Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, India, and Korea generally allow interest where there is default in the payment of money.  Interest is no more than the price of money (if borrowed) or the opportunity cost of money (if not borrowed)[3]. Rates at which interest should be awarded on damages may be heavily influenced by contractual terms on interest. The parties will often have stipulated a rate of interest for the late payment of invoices under the contract: should the same rate be used for interest on awards of damages?  Although awards of interest are matters of discretion for the Arbitral Tribunal, it seems right in principle that if the parties have agreed the price of money, that rate should be applied or at least considered in any award of damages. Of course, there may be good reason why the rate of interest on late paid invoices is higher than might be the case for damages. The parties might know that the product being sold was financed under especially expensive borrowing facilities and that interest on damages might not need to be compensated at the same rate.  Alternatively, there could be a coercive effect in setting a high rate to encourage payment of invoices.  It is suggested, however, that in normal circumstances a contractual rate should be applied to any award of interest on damages.

Interest on What and from When

Interest is normally awarded on the entire amount awarded but care should be taken not to overcompensate a claimant by awarding interest on the entire amount from the date of breach[4]. For example, interest on lost profits might run from each of the relevant years of loss rather from the date of breach. Equally, interest should, in principle, not be awarded on tax on grossed up damages (the grossing up being necessary if the damges are taxable in the hands of the claimant).  The tax is not a loss to the claimant and the claimant will simply be obliged to account to the tax authorities upon receipt. Unless there is a liability to the tax authorities for interest, it should generally not be awarded on the tax element of the loss.

Simple or Compound?

The further issue is whether interest should be awarded on a simple or compound basis[5].  Again, if the point is dealt with elsewhere in the contract, the same principle might be applied to the award of damages.  If the issue is not covered elsewhere then, as ever, it is a matter of discretion for the Tribunal. The point was considered by the House of Lords in Sempra Metals Ltd v. Inland Revenue Commissioners[6].  The House held that the time had come to recognise that money had a value: the court had a common law jurisdiction to award interest, simple and compound, as damages on claims for the non-payment of debts as well as on other claims for breach of contract and in tort.  Furthermore, a Tribunal is entitled to take into account the prevailing commercial practice of borrowing and investing on a compound basis.

Margins

If no rate is mentioned in the contract, a margin over bank base rates is probably the right starting point. The base rates should be taken as those prevailing in the country where the aggrieved party has its main banking arrangements. The margin may depend on whether the aggrieved party is a net borrower or depositor. A net borrower might be better compensated by say a margin over base rates equivalent to the rate a comparable company would be expected to pay and likewise a net depositor the rate a similar company might command on its deposits. A rate of 1 or, perhaps, 2% over bank base rate might be appropriate.  Generally, the larger and wealthier an organisation the cheaper will be its borrowing costs and hence the lower the rate of interest it will be able to recover.  Equally, the larger and wealthier an organisation the more money it will have to invest / deposit and the more sophisticated its treasury function and hence the higher the rates of interest it will receive on deposits.

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 Corportation[7]Popplewll J identified the sorts 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[8].

The Court held that although choice of London arbitratuon will generally be treated as a choice of English law under Article 3 of trhe Rome Convention, that choice was to be ignored for the purposes of s.12 due to words providing ‘but for that choice’.

Post – Award

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.  In some instances it may be 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[9].  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%[10] on a simple (non-compounded) basis.

The authorities on this area were reviewed by Flaux J in Sonatrach v Statoil[11]Flaux J observed that Aikens 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[12] 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[13] and Gater Assets Ltd v Nak Naftogaz (No. 2)[14].  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.”

 


[1] [1974] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 394

[2] [2009] EWHC 977 (Comm).  As the judge described it “This was simply a howler which was sought to be corrected.”  The writer represented the award creditor.

[3] Care should, however, be taken not to over compensate by looking too closely at the opportunity cost.  For remoteness reasons a claimant should not usually be compensated for the actual use they might have put the money to i.e. it would have purchased stock that has significantly increased in value.  The normal measure will be lost interest that the funds would have attracted.

[4] In general terms interest should run from when payment was due in the case of debts and from when the loss was suffered in the case of damages.  In civil law systems (such as France, Germany and Switzerland) as it is not sufficient merely for the payer to be in breach and the innocent party must give notice of default for interest to accrue, it will generally run from the date of the notice.  Practice Guideline 13 of the Guidelines for Arbitrators on how to approach the making of awards on interest, suggests that a mid-point is taken when losses are suffered over a period.

[5] English law gives the tribunal discretion: Arbitration Act 1996 s49.  In contrast Swiss law provides that compound interest cannot be awarded (Swiss Code of Obligations Articles 105 and 314).

[6] [2007] 3 WLR 354.

[7] [2014] EWHC 1884 (Comm)

[8] The Court allowed an appeal against an award that granted interest under the Act.  The Court was plainly very conscious not to extend domestic policy to international parties and not to dissuade international parties from choosing English law and seat.

[9] [1999] 2 All ER (Comm) 961, [2000] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 116.

[10] A generous rate at the time of writing such that it may be beneficial NOT to seek post-award interest and rely upon this or similar provisions.

[11] [2014] EWHC 875 (Comm)

[12] [2005] EWHC 2301 (Comm); [2005] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 728

[13] [1978] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 223, 275

[14] [2008] EWHC 1108 (Comm); [2009] 1 ALL ER (Comm) 667

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