On 1 January 2014, a government bill (ErläutRV 2322 BlgNR 23. GP) introducing changes to the Austrian Arbitration Law will come into force (SchiedsRÄG 2013). Mainly Sec. 615 and 616 of the Austrian Code of Civil Procedure (ACCP), which regulate the procedural levels for challenging an arbitration award in front of an Austrian state court, will be changed. As of the start of next year, the Austrian Su-preme Court will be both the first and the last instance to decide about such claims.
Based on the work of a group composed of several arbitration practitioners and aca-demics, a ministerial draft bill (351/ME, SchiedsRÄG 2012) issued in February 2012 envisioned shortening the procedure for challenging an arbitration award to one in-stance, namely the Austrian Supreme Court.
The reaction to this draft bill was predominantly positive. For instance, both the Austrian Bar Association and the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber welcomed the draft as an improvement for both “Austrian” arbitrations and Austria as a business location.
After approximately one year of discussions, the Austrian parliament decided in fa-vour of the current government bill.
The main changes introduced by the amendments are as follows:
Instead of three procedural levels (court of first instance, court of appeal, Supreme Court), Sec. 615 ACCP will be changed so that the decision about a claim challeng-ing an arbitration award is made by just one judicial instance. The previous pro-visions had been considered as a principal disadvantage for promoting Austria as a place of arbitration.
Sec. 616 para. 1 ACCP stipulates that the procedure about a claim challenging an arbitration award or a claim regarding the declaration on the existence or inexist-ence of an arbitration award is the same one used in front of a court of first in-stance. This means in fact that the Austrian Supreme Court – for instance, in the context of taking evidence - has to apply the same procedural rules as a court of first instance.
For disputes about the formation of the arbitral tribunal, the provisions of the Aus-trian Act on Non-Contentious Matters (“Außerstreitgesetz”) are applicable.
The amendments add four new paragraphs to Sec. 617 ACCP (special provisions for consumers). In disputes involving a consumer, the current procedural levels remain in force; such cases will continue to involve three instances.
Additionally, the amendment also adapts the regulation on the court fees for claims challenging an arbitration award, which, as of 1 January 2014, is five per cent of the value in dispute (with a minimum fee of EUR 5,000).
In sum, the reforms introduced by these amendments should be viewed as a major success for promoting Austria as place of arbitration and prove that the coun-try’s legislation can be regarded as absolutely up-to-date and “arbitration-friendly”.