A never signed arbitration clause

An Arbitral Tribunal seated in Padua recently dealt with some issues concerning its jurisdiction. The award was delivered on 21 January 2020 and its Italian text is available here.

The dispute heard by the Tribunal referred to an alleged relationship between a bank and a limited company evidenced by a framework agreement and an interest rate swap contract.

The claimant’s case was that the said contractual documents were never signed by its legal representative and that the signature on them was forged. As a consequence, the claimant requested the respondent to return the amounts the latter received under the terms of the said contracts.

An interesting point is that the claimant commenced the arbitration proceedings provided for by the arbitration clause contained in the contracts that, in its own case, it never entered into.

Another interesting point is that, on the basis of the opinion of a Tribunal-appointed expert, the claimant’s signature on the contracts actually proved to be forged. The respondent did not raise any objection after the filing of the expert opinion. Nonetheless, when the Tribunal requested the parties to express their views on the matter, the respondent objected to the Tribunal’s jurisdiction, lacking an enforceable (and even existing) arbitration clause.

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Preliminary agreement and arbitration clause

An arbitration clause stipulated in the preliminary agreement (that is, a kind of agreement to agree, which is enforceable under Italian law) was not included in the final agreement. In any case, the disputes concerning the later have to be referred to the Arbitral Tribunal. This was the ruling of the Court of Appeal of Venice (decision no. 2361 of 12 October 2015 of the I Civil Chamber of the Appeals Court of Venice, Italian text available here).

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