北京仲裁委员会

特定情形下无效合同裁判规则之反思

发布时间: 2019-6-13   供稿人:章杰超

在适用中国法的情况下,合同效力是民商事合同纠纷案件审理中首先需要审查的事项,大多数裁判文书对此都会有专门论述。无效的合同,自始没有法律约束力(《合同法》第五十六条规定)。无效合同处理的一般准则是:返还财产、折价补偿、过错方赔偿损失(《合同法》第五十八条规定)。

不少当事人确信,合同无效将导致合同中的所有内容不再执行(争议解决条款除外),很多裁判文书确实也作了如此认定。正是基于无效合同的特点,一些当事人试图用它来获取利益,而免于承担不利后果。这也可以解释为何合同无效被频繁用作不履行合同义务一方当事人的抗辩理由。在金融类和工程类案件中,这种情况尤其明显。

试举笔者近期遇到的两起仲裁案件为例:

第一起为股权转让及委托持股合同纠纷。在该案中,申请人向被申请人购买部分被申请人作为控股股东持有的(拟上市)目标公司股份,并委托其代持,后目标公司成功上市,申请人要求变更股份登记并支付股息。被申请人称合同违反法律和监管文件关于上市公司股份不得隐名代持的规定,损害社会公共利益,属无效合同,故申请人请求应予驳回。

第二起是建设工程施工合同纠纷。在该案中,申请人作为工程分包商,向作为工程总包方的被申请人索要工程款,并要求支付延期付款违约金。被申请人抗辩称,其自身不具备符合本案工程要求的施工资质,总包合同无效,因而其与申请人签订的分包合同亦无效,合同中约定的违约金条款不应适用。

不论是在仲裁中,还是在诉讼中,类似的案例并不鲜见。此类案件的一个突出的特点是,一方当事人在签订合同之时就知晓或应当知晓合同存在无效的风险,但仍然签订合同。事后在相对方主张权利时,却以合同无效作为己方抗辩理由,并以此否定合同约定,逃避己方义务的履行。

作为裁判者而言,对合同效力问题应主动审查,不因当事人是否主张而受影响,但仍需考虑当事人在此类合同中作无效抗辩,意图完全脱离合同的约束,可谓是一种机会主义行为,有违诚信,甚至会有损市场经济秩序的建立和维护。

针对上述情况,笔者认为,在确需认定合同无效的情况下,裁判者应探索更加科学的处理规则,对各方利益进行合理矫正。以维护诚信,降低交易成本,建立更加有序的市场秩序。

笔者建议,在遇到类似情形时,可以尝试确立如下裁判规则:

1. 对于无效合同过错方的认定,应采用更接近无效事由原则。即如果一方当事人明知合同无效而仍然签订,或者与相对方相比其更应有理由知晓所签为无效合同,则应认定其为过错方或主要过错方,并对其课以相应责任。

2. 无效合同有效处理。合同虽然无效,但停止合同义务的履行会使过错方获取不当利益,在违反管理性规定的无效合同中即存在此种情形。无效合同有效处理即继续履行可以说是上佳解决之道。对此,《最高人民法院关于审理建设工程施工合同纠纷案件适用法律问题的解释》第二条提供了很好的范例。

3. 合同违约条款仍可准用。如果合同约定了违约条款,即使合同无效,有过错一方并不能当然脱离条款的约束。该做法似乎与传统并不一致,但笔者认为,这是防止过错方随意否定合同、合理分配各方责任的有效手段。事实上,关于违约条款的适用可参照《合同法》第九十八条规定,“合同的权利义务终止,不影响合同中结算和清理条款的效力。”虽然从严格意义上来说,合同无效并不属于合同终止的情形,但就后果而言,无效合同仍有准用该条款的余地。

作者:北京仲裁委员会/北京国际仲裁中心仲裁员章杰超。北仲高级主管许捷对文章亦有贡献

Thoughts on deciding an invalid contract

In a typical court judgment or arbitration award, the validity of contract is the first item to be examined in a civil or commercial case if the applicable law is PRC Law. An invalid contract shall be void ab initio (see article 56 of the Contract Law).

The general rules for handling invalid contracts are: return of property, compensation through conversion of the property into money, and compensation for losses by the faulty party (article 58 of the Contract Law). Parties may expect that the invalidity of a contract will result in non-performance of all contents of the contract (except for dispute resolution clauses), as many judgments and awards have ruled.

It is such an expectation that makes certain parties believe that their claim of invalidity would benefit them by avoiding adverse performance or consequences. It is also the reason why the claim of invalidity is commonly seen as a defence of the party that fails to perform its contractual obligations. The claim of invalidity is particularly frequent in financial and construction cases.

Two arbitration cases that the author encountered recently are given as examples. The first case is the disputes over an equity transfer and entrusted shareholding contract. In this case, the claimant purchased shares from the respondent. The target company was to be listed at the moment of transaction and has been listed subsequently.

The respondent was entrusted by the claimant as a registered shareholder of the target company and was asked to make registration change and transfer the dividends after the public offering. The respondent claims that the contract violates certain laws and regulations that prohibit such entrusted shareholding. The contract therefore violates the public policy and shall be deem invalid. As a result, the applicant has no ground for claiming registration change and transfer of the dividends.

The second case involves disputes over a construction contract. In this case, the claimant, as the subcontractor, requested the respondent, as the general contractor, for workload compensation and liquidated damages for arrears. The respondent, however, alleged the invalidity of its own general contract since the company itself failed to conform with the contractors’ qualification requirements. Therefore, the subcontract is also invalid, and the liquidated damages clauses in the subcontract shall not apply.

Similar scenarios are not rare, either in arbitration or litigation. A similarity is witnessed with the two cases, as the claiming parties were aware, or should have been aware, of the risk of invalidity when entering the contract. But they kept their silence before the dispute arose. When other parties file a case against the claiming parties, the invalidity defence may become an excuse to turn down the contract and avoid performance.

Although an adjudicator should examine the validity of the contract, regardless of parties’ claims, such a claim of invalidity may still be defined as a malicious claim that ought to breach the contract, and even be harmful to market rules and commercial norms.

In view of this, the author argues that the adjudicator shall adopt comprehensive thinking and rules, in case a contract concerned is indeed invalid, when making a judgment or award. A fair balance of parties’ rights and interests should be achieved. The general principle is to sustain the good faith and to safeguard a more cost-effective game rule; in other words, to enhance the predictability of commercial activities.

Three approaches are suggested by the author. They are: (1) the proximity to the cause of invalidity should be considered in the determination of the faulty party. If a party enters an invalid contract with awareness, or should have known the risk of invalidity better than the other party, the party should be liable to the consequence of invalidity, or at least bear the main liabilities; (2) the invalid contract with de facto effectiveness. If the invalidity of a contract and non-performance benefits the faulty party inappropriately, to acknowledge the de facto effectiveness of the invalid contract could be a solution. This practice has already existed in situations where a contract violates laws that provides administrative rules. Article 2 of the Supreme People’s Court Interpretation on Issues Concerning the Application of Law in the Trial of Construction Contract Disputes illustrates such practice; and (3) the provisions regarding the breach of contract should continue to be effective. If parties agree the liability and consequence of the breach of contract, such agreement should still bind the faulty parties, even if the contract itself is invalid.

This approach may be deemed inconsistent to laws and theories. However, in the author’s view, this approach could be effective in preventing the wrongdoer arbitrarily claiming the invalidity of a contract. It also helps allocate liability, as it has already been agreed to by the parties.

In fact, article 98 of the Contract Law provides that, “The termination of the contractual rights and obligations shall not affect the validity of the settlement and winding-up clauses in the contract”.

The understanding of the settlement and winding-up clause may help gain reasonable ground for the third approach, although the invalidity of a contract does not accurately fit in the notion of the termination of a contract. It is, however, a reasonable path dealing with the above-mentioned scenario.

Zhang Jiechao is an arbitrator of Beijing Arbitration Commission/Beijing International Arbitration Center (BAC/BIAC). BAC/BIAC’s senior manager Terence Xu also contributed to the article.

因本合同引起的或与本合同有关的任何争议,均提请北京仲裁委员会/北京国际仲裁中心按照其仲裁规则进行仲裁。仲裁裁决是终局的,对双方均有约束力。
活动安排
版权所有:北京仲裁委员会 京ICP备12026795号友情链接   |   版权声明

京公网安备 11010502036977号