Arbitration notices by e-mail


Published: 3 March 2006

This award is a reminder and warning that service of notices, documents etc. by e-mail in London arbitrations is considered valid and a further reminder that all e-mail addresses/mailboxes, and the spamfilter, should be checked regularly by staff.

In a recent award concerning correspondence by email, the C/P included a fairly standard arbitration clause which also included a provision for Small Claims Procedure under the LMAA.

A dispute arose over payment and the owners’ London lawyers sent a written demand to charterers at an e-mail address which was 
"info@[companyname].com" demanding payment.

When no response was received, a notice requiring agreement to the appointment of a sole arbitrator was sent to the same address.

This particular ”info” e-mail address had not been used previously in the relationship between the parties, but it was an address which the charterers themselves listed on their company website (and it was also listed in the Lloyd’s Maritime Directory for 2005).

Further messages were sent by the London lawyers not only to the arbitrator and the LMAA but also sent to charterers at the same “info” e-mail address.

The owners’ claim submissions were also sent to the same address, and the subsequent notices from the arbitrator asking for defence submissions, a message including the arbitrator’s final peremptory order to serve defence submissions etc. were also sent to the “info” e-mail address.

NO response whatsoever was received from charterers, and the arbitrator therefore continued to issue his final award which was sent not only to the “info” e-mail address but also by post.

This finally prompted charterers to react, and they tried to challenge the arbitration award in the London High Court (alleging serious irregularity).

The London High Court held that e-mails had been sent to the info e-mail address, that they were received at that address and not rejected. The e-mails had been sent to an address which was ”held out to the world” as the ”only” e-mail address of charterers, and the position was therefore no different to the receipt in the actual office of a company to the receipt of a letter or fax or telex which someone in the office, for whatever reason, decided to discard. Delivery by e-mail was considered to be a method commonly used by businessmen, lawyers and civil servants and, by implication, a fully accepted method of corresponding.

The charterers had tried to argue that the e-mails would have been ignored as “spam” mail, but the Court also mentioned that the e-mails had none of the usual characteristics of a “spam” e-mail.

Accordingly, the arbitration notices were all held to be valid.

This case is an important reminder that all e-mail boxes including “general” style or “info” e-mail addresses (as well as the spam-filter) must be checked by staff and, where necessary, dealt with or passed to relevant personnel. It is extremely dangerous to rely on counter parties having knowledge of either department or personal e-mail addresses, and whenever a general e-mail address is published either on a website, directories etc., this means that the e-mail address may validly be used for also important communications including arbitration notices.

(2006) 683 LMLN 1