Section 20 of The Arbitration Act

It is settled law, Section 20(1) and 20(2), where the word ‘place’ is used, refers to ‘juridical seat’; whereas in Section 20(3), the word ‘place’ is equivalent to ‘venue’.

My Lord, What is the correct depiction of the practical considerations and the distinction between ‘seat’ [Sections 20(1) and 20(2)] and ‘venue’ [Section 20(3)]?

This, as per Hon’ble Justice R.F. Nariman in Indus Mobile Distribution Pvt. Ltd. v. Datawind Innovations Pvt. Ltd., [Civil Appeal Nos. 5370-5371 of 2017]:

“There is only one ‘place’ of Arbitration. This will be the ‘place’ chosen by or on behalf of the parties; and it will be designated in the Arbitration Agreement or the terms of the reference or the minutes of proceedings or in some other way as the ‘place’ or ‘seat’ of the Arbitration.

This does not mean, however, the Arbitral Tribunal must hold all its meetings or hearings at the ‘place’ of Arbitration. International Commercial Arbitration often involves people of many different nationalities, from many different countries. In these circumstances, it is by no means unusual for an Arbitral Tribunal to hold meetings – or even hearings – in a ‘place’ other than the designated ‘place’ of Arbitration, either for its own convenience or for the convenience of the parties or their witnesses.

It may be more convenient for an Arbitral Tribunal sitting in one country to conduct a hearing in another country – for instance, for the purpose of taking evidence. In such circumstances, each move of the Arbitral Tribunal does not of itself mean that the ‘seat’ of Arbitration changes. The ‘seat’ of the Arbitration remains the ‘place’ initially agreed by or on behalf of the parties.”

– Redfern and Hunter, The Law and Practice of International Commercial Arbitration (1986) at p. 69.

Also see, BBR India Private Limited v. S.P. Singla Constructions Private Limited, [Civil Appeal Nos. 4130-4131 of 2022] decided on 18.05.2022.