FinnHEMS – Set-Aside Proceedings of an Arbitral Award

We represented FinnHEMS Oy, the company in charge of Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) operations in Finland, in set-aside proceedings.

In 2016, an arbitral tribunal rendered an award dismissing the claims presented by FinnHEMS against one of its service providers. The arbitral tribunal accepted that the service provider had breached the agreement, but decided not to award any compensation to FinnHEMS, as the arbitral tribunal considered FinnHEMS to have failed to give notice of the breaches within a reasonable time. However, the service provider had not invoked failure to give notice as grounds for disputing the claim during the arbitration. Consequently, FinnHEMS initiated set-aside proceedings in the District Court of Helsinki.

The District Court of Helsinki accepted FinnHEMS’ action and set the award aside. The service provider appealed to the Helsinki Court of Appeal, which also found in favour of FinnHEMS. Both the District Court of Helsinki and the Helsinki Court of Appeal accepted FinnHEMS’ argument that the arbitral tribunal had failed to provide FinnHEMS with sufficient opportunity to present its case and had exceeded its jurisdiction when basing its award on grounds not invoked by the parties in the arbitration. The Supreme Court did not grant the service provider leave of appeal, making the decision by the Helsinki Court of Appeal final. 

The threshold for a court to set aside an award is high. Arbitral awards are meant to be final and can only be challenged on very limited grounds. All in all, there is very little legal praxis available relating to set-aside proceedings and even less so where an arbitral award has actually been set aside. Nevertheless, FinnHEMS was able to show that the arbitral tribunal had exceeded its jurisdiction and failed to provide FinnHEMS with sufficient opportunity to present its case to such a degree that the arbitral award was set aside. The final decision by the Helsinki Court of Appeal is noteworthy and rare in Finland and provides good guidance for future cases with respect to the limits of the powers of arbitral tribunals.