Judge interprets meaning of "reciprocal enforcement procedures" in an arbitration agreement

The applicant sought an anti-suit injunction in respect of proceedings commenced by the respondent in Lebanon, which, the applicant alleged, breached the arbitration agreement entered into between the parties.

The relevant arbitration agreement provided that the parties agreed to arbitrate in London "to the extent there is no reciprocal enforcement procedures between the UK and the country in which the [respondent] is located". The applicant argued that that phrase meant that there had to be a bilateral or multilateral treaty in force between the UK and Lebanon (there is no such treaty in force). The respondent countered that all that was required was that the domestic laws of the two countries allowed for mutual enforcement of judgments (eg under English common law, and its equivalent in Lebanon).

Bryan J found in favour of the applicant. He referred to the dictionary definition of "reciprocal" and said that "Whilst I am, of course, alive, to the fact that dictionary meanings in themselves do not give an answer to the meaning of words or phrases in a contract in the abstract divorced from their context … in the context of the present clause and its wording, such dictionary definitions accords with the ordinary and natural meaning of the words used, namely, that …reciprocal enforcement procedures between the United Kingdom and [Lebanon]… are procedures for the enforcement of a judgment which "exists on both sides" or are mutual, and bind equally the UK and Lebanon". In other words, what is required are "reciprocal enforcement procedures" between the UK and Lebanon, which binds both countries equally.

Accordingly, the dispute here should have been arbitrated and so the anti-suit injunction was granted (as this was not a case where the proceedings brought in breach of the arbitration agreement were taking place in a Member State country).