Author: Hans Smit*
Published: January 2009
Enforcement of Arbitral Awards
Grounds for Refusal of Enforcement
International arbitration is traditionally hailed as affording the most substantial benefit of producing an award that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, is entitled to recognition and enforcement in the more than 120 countries that have ratified the New York Convention of 1958. This regime of almost universal recognition and enforcement compares most favorably with that regulating the recognition and enforcement of judgments rendered by foreign courts. Those judgments are recognized and enforced only when domestic law or a relevant treaty so provides.
The rule generally prevailing in civil law systems is that foreign judgments are not recognized or enforced at all or only on a basis of reciprocity, with frequent uncertainty as to what form of reciprocity is required. In common law countries, foreign judgments are generally recognized and enforced, but courts retain a significant measure of leeway. European countries have adopted a regional recognition and enforcement scheme laid down in the Brussels Convention, as amended by the Lugano Convention. Generally, however, the liberality in the recognition and enforcement of international arbitral awards prescribed by the New York Convention stands in marked contrast to the uncertain fate that awaits foreign judgments in domestic courts.
Nevertheless, obtaining recognition and enforcement of international arbitral awards is not without obstacles and even pitfalls. This Article attempts to show that most of them can be traced to deficiencies in the regime provided by the New York Convention and, in important measure, to defectively drafted arbitration agreements.
*Stanley H. Fuld Professor of Law, Columbia University. This article was originally published in THE LEADING ARBITRATORS’ GUIDE TO INTERNATIONAL ARBITRATION 591 (Lawrence W. Newman & Richard D. Hill eds., 2d ed., 2008).