The Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2019 received the signature of our President on August 9, 2019, and was formally published in the Official Gazette. Some important features of the 2019 Amendment are discussed below:
Modified timeline for completion of proceedings
The 2019 Amendment has relaxed the watertight time-period for completion of arbitration process which was prescribed by the 2015 Amendment to a certain extent.
With an intension to ensure that this phase of completion of pleadings does not become a hasty procedure, there is a period of six months which has been prescribed for submitting the Statement of Claim and that of Defence.
Arbitration Proceedings and confidentiality
The amendment of 2019 particularly incorporates a requirement for the arbitrator(s), the institution carrying out the arbitral proceedings and the parties in dispute themselves to maintain the confidentiality of all the matters that come up during arbitration proceedings, except where disclosure of the award is necessary for the purpose to implement and enforce the award.
Circumstance(s) which would justify interference with an award in a petition under Section 34 of the Act
An important change brought about by the Amendment of 2019 is in relation to the manner of ‘proving’ the pre-requisites for interference with an award under Section 34. Whereas the provision in the 1996 Act asserted that a party should ‘furnish proof’ of the existence of circumstances that would justify interference with an award, the amendment of 2019 clears that the said circumstances have to be established based on the records of the arbitral tribunal. This not only removes the otherwise ambiguous phrase ‘furnish proof’, yet further, it seems to expressly clear that the demonstration has to be made by the party concerned on the basis of the record of the arbitral tribunal alone.
Protection for Arbitrators
The Amendment of 2019 also puts in place a provision for the safety of the arbitrators and clarifies that there shall be no suit or other legal proceedings against an arbitrator for anything which is done in a bona fide manner, good faith or under the provisions of 1996 Act.
Qualifications to be accredited as an Arbitrator
Under the 1996 Act or the 2015 Amendment, there were no particular qualifications which were required for the purpose of deciding as in who can be appointed as an arbitrator, aside from the general necessary requirements of independence and impartiality, the amendment of 2019 has also introduced the 8th Schedule which specially provides that only a specific qualified class of persons holding required qualifications would be eligible to be accredited as an arbitrator including advocates, chartered accountants, cost accountants and company secretaries [who have 10 years of experience] or officials of the Indian legal service, or officers with a degree in law or a degree in engineering [both in the government and in the private sector with an experience of at least 10years] officers having high level experience in the field of administration [both in the government and in the private sector with 10 years of experience], or a person having adequate educational qualification at the degree level with at least 10 years of experience in a technical or scientific stream in the areas of telecom, IT , intellectual property rights or other specialized fields [both in the government and in the private sector].
Recognition of Arbitral Institutions and delegation of important functions
Establishment of the Arbitration Council of India.