Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Third-Party Funding in International Arbitration

While third-party funding (“3PF”) is not new, it is playing an increasingly prevalent role in big ticket commercial arbitration and in investment treaty cases. 3PF involves the financing of arbitrations or claims in exchange for a portion of the proceeds in the event of success. Funders commonly include insurance companies, hedge funds, private equity funds, investment banks and law firms. The funder may earn an agreed percentage of any award or a success fee or both. In the event of an unfavourable award, the funder will lose its investment and will not be entitled to any payment.

In Europe and East Asia (principally Hong Kong and Singapore), 3PF is burgeoning. Professional funders have realised that the potential of multimillion- and multibillion-dollar cases are the norm in the current environment, and are also attracted by the absence of regulation of 3PF in key jurisdictions. Meanwhile, 3PF offers claimants the ability to pursue claims that they would have otherwise abandoned or settled. Though some countries have drafted voluntary codes of conduct (for example, the French bar association has declared 3PF to be consistent with French law), 3PF remains unregulated in many places and there is currently no formal regulation of its use in the context of international arbitration.

3PF in the GCC region 
In the GCC, 3PF has not been widely used and currently little, if any, regulation addresses 3PF. One of the few bodies in the region to address 3PF is the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), which after public consultation formally adopted a Practice Direction on third-party funding in March 2017. The DIFC guidance requires disclosure to the other party of the existence of 3PF; such notice must include the name of the funder, but no further details of the funding arrangement. The guidance may have been a response to the funded case of Al Khorafi v Bank Sarasin in which the DIFC Court ordered damages in excess of US$50 million. This case and others reflect growing confidence in enforceability of judgments in the region, further encouraged by the establishment of the English common law Abu Dhabi Global Markets (ADGM) Court in 2016.

We are not aware of any cases in Oman using 3PF to date, but we see no bar to the use of 3PF in arbitration claims in Oman. It is reasonable to expect institutions that typically fund arbitrations to look at the caseload of ad hoc and institutional arbitrations currently underway in the Sultanate. The current restricted liquidity in many sectors across the GCC may also heighten interest in seeking 3PF.

Why engage in 3PF?

The sudden increase of 3PF in international arbitrations has raised concerns of increased frivolous claims, while proponents of 3PF argue that the careful screening of claims by funders protects against unmeritorious claims. In reality, 3PF of international arbitration offers the potential to bring together funders seeking a return on their investment with clients in need of finance to support their claims. 3PF is also being used by claimants to take the costs of conducting an arbitration ‘off-balance sheet.’ Any claimant company would prefer to outsource these costs rather than be required to carry them as a contingent liability in its accounts.

What are the risks of 3PF? 
3PF is no longer completely unregulated, but in the absence of regulation some of the risks and concerns that need to be considered in any 3PF include (i) potential conflicts of interest arising out of the involvement of an investor; (ii) whether reliance on 3PF is grounds for ordering security for costs; and (iii) whether and to what extent a party relying on 3PF should disclosure the 3PF arrangement.

Incentives to funders/investors 
Investors in international arbitration are attracted by high quantum claims and the enforcement benefits of the New York Convention on the Recognition of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Other key drivers that attract funders are:

(i) a strong case on the merits;
(ii) the size of the estimated damages, usually a minimum of US$10 million;
(iii) the funder’s share of the award;
(iv) the amount of costs that the funder has agreed to bear;
(v) the prospects of success;
(vi) where the assets are situated;
(vii) a solvent respondent and its ability to meet the damages awarded and costs;
(viii) the jurisdiction in which the arbitration takes place; (ix) the ease of enforcement of the award; and
(x) the time it will take to bring the case to a settlement or award.

The percentages earned by funders in 3PF arrangements vary between 20-50 per cent of the quantum awarded in a case and can be a multiple of the amounted invested by the funder. A funder is usually looking for a minimum return on investment of three, as in any project finance or private equity transaction.

Funders have also been encouraged by the recent case of Essar Oilfield Services Ltd v Norscot Rig Management Pvt Ltd in which the English High Court upheld an arbitrator’s decision to award a funding premium as part of the claimant’s claim for costs. This funding premium reimbursed the claimant for its costs of seeking 3PF for the case. While the effect of this case remains to be seen in other jurisdictions, claimants using 3PF now have a framework for making similar requests for costs.

An increase of arbitral decisions, commentaries, and efforts to codify applicable rules represent the first step towards self-regulation. One can expect more regulation if the voluntary codes of conduct currently in operation in many jurisdictions prove ineffective or if funders cannot meet their commitments. Where 3PF is legal, it is safe to say statutory regulation is likely to increase.