The French courts are very reluctant to challenge arbitration awards, and the grounds on which the cancellation of an award may be obtained are both limited and also construed in a very restrictive manner.
A foreign arbitration award can be challenged only if one of the five following conditions is met (there are additional grounds on which a French arbitration award can be challenged):
- the lack of valid arbitration agreement;
- an incorrectly appointed arbitration court;
- a breach of arbitrator's powers;
- a violation of the defendant's rights to a fair hearing; or
- a violation of the international public order.
The examination by the French courts is strictly limited to these five criteria, and as such they can never review the merits of the case itself.
The strict application of these criteria has been regularly confirmed in case law. As a result of this, very few arbitration awards have ever been cancelled in France, and it has only occurred in specific cases where there has been evidence of a major and substantive breach corresponding to one of the five criteria set out above. For example, with regard to the potential violation of the defendant's rights, the French courts would not cancel an award if (for example) necessary documentation had merely been provided late to the defendant, but only in the case where it had not been provided at all.