The High Court recently confirmed the competence-competence doctrine that an arbitrator may rule on his or her own jurisdiction. The applicant, Mayo County Council, sought a declaration that the arbitrator had no jurisdiction to arbitrate a dispute in relation to the final sum payable under a contract for works between it and the respondent, Joe Reilly Plant Hire Limited.
The UNCITRAL model law, adopted in Ireland in 2010, expressly recognises an arbitrator’s right to rule on his or her own jurisdiction. An arbitrator’s decision in this regard is not final as the parties are entitled to appeal to the High Court.
The applicant in this case did not dispute that there was a valid arbitration clause in the contract and did not argue that the dispute in question was beyond the scope of the arbitration clause. The applicant’s argument was that the arbitration clause was no longer operative due to the fact that the respondent had accepted payment under the contract and therefore there had been accord and satisfaction.
McGovern J stated that the issue of accord and satisfaction was not a basis to challenge the arbitrator’s jurisdiction but may instead constitute a defence to the claim made by the respondent in the arbitration.
McGovern J noted that the courts are very reluctant to interfere with arbitrators’ rulings unless there is a dispute as to the existence of an arbitration clause.
The Court held that the arbitrator did have the right to rule on his own jurisdiction and it was for the arbitrator and not the court to determine the issues before him.