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GAR 100 - 11th Edition

Holman Fenwick Willan

05 April 2018

Won a UK Supreme Court ruling on enforcement

Value of pending counsel work US$6 billion
Current arbitrator appointments
1 (of which 0 are 
as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator  1

Headquartered in London, Holman Fenwick Willan (HFW) has a long history in international arbitration thanks to its shipping and commodities work, but it only established a dedicated practice a few years ago, headed by partner Damian Honey in London.

It still does hundreds of arbitrations at various maritime and trade bodies every year but has branched out to working on mainstream commercial cases under all the major institutional rules. It’s also started to take on investment treaty work.

HFW frequently acts in arbitration-related proceedings in the English High Court and has long been involved in Bermuda Form insurance and reinsurance arbitrations held in London applying New York law.

Network

The anchor of the practice is London, which hosts 12 partners that do arbitration. There are other partners in Paris, Geneva, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Melbourne and Sydney – in other words, practically all the major arbitral venues worldwide apart from Stockholm and New York.

The wider firm has offices in Perth, Piraeus, São Paulo, Jakarta and Shanghai and opened a new office in Houston in 2017 that is bringing in more US-focused arbitration work. It also has associations with firms in Kuwait, Riyadh, Beirut and Abu Dhabi.

Who uses it?

Clients of note include Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Total, Eni, Maersk Oil Qatar, Trafigura, BP, Noble Resources, Louis Dreyfus, Goldman Sachs and BNP Paribas.

Government clients include Greece and Niger. In an important case for the maritime sector, Holman Fenwick Willan advised China’s state-run Cosco Group in a dispute over a ship captured by Somali pirates.

Track record

The firm acted for Trafigura in a series of arbitrations arising from the collapse of the coal market in South China in 2012. Two of these took place in London under LCIA rules, with one ending in favour of the firm’s client in 2014. The award was later enforced by the English High Court.

The firm has had successes before the English courts in matters relating to arbitration. In 2015, it helped to disqualify a Lebanese arbitrator from hearing a case against a client from Sierra Leone because of bias concerns. It achieved a similar result in 2012 in an aluminium dispute.

In another English court matter, it helped Indonesia’s Kaltim Prima Coal resist an application by contractor Thiess for security payable in relation to a Singapore arbitration over mining services in Borneo.

HFW helped Noble Resources defend an award in the Federal Court of Australia against allegations of procedural unfairness in the arbitration. The court found that the losing side, China’s Sino Dragon, was the “author of its own misfortune”, because it had opted to use the WeChat app on an iPad to communicate with witnesses in Hong Kong rather than bring them to a hearing or use videoconferencing.

Recent events

There was success before the UK Supreme Court in 2017, as an HFW team obtained a ruling that third-party debt could be used to enforce an award against Iraq’s state oil marketing company. The court ruled a French bank’s letters of credit to the Iraqi entity could be used to enforce a US$8.7 million UNCITRAL award in favour of HFW’s client, Geneva oil trader Taurus Petroleum.

The firm continues to defend Greece in a billion-euro dispute with Lebanese investor Iskandar Safa and his company Privinvest relating to the Greek navy’s takeover of a commercial shipyard and submarine construction project, which has given rise to two ICC arbitrations and an ICSID claim. One of the ICC cases saw the state ordered to pay over €200 million to Privinvest in October 2017; awards in the other two cases are pending.

The firm says a good proportion of its work these days is very high-value – an example being its defence of a national oil company in an LCIA claim worth US$2 billion relating to an infrastructure project.

A team in Paris has been helping Niger to resist enforcement of a US$26 million OHADA award in favour of British Virgin Islands company Africard amid allegations of fraudulent collusion between the arbitrator, claimant and expert witness. In October 2017, a Paris court refused to grant a judicial review of an order confirming the award.

South Korea’s Sinokor used the firm in an arbitration with Libya’s state-owned General National Maritime Transportation Company that involved allegations that a bribe was paid to one of the sons of deceased former president of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi. In 2017, the English High Court refused to rule that the panel hearing the case was properly constituted, as one of the parties to the case had been dissolved over three years before the claim was brought.

Beau McLaren joined the partnership as head of the construction practice in Dubai in March 2017, bringing a team with him from his former firm Dentons. Another construction specialist, Ben Mellors, joined as partner in London. The firm promoted Andrew Williams, who has been working on various LCIA claims for Iranian clients, to partner in London.

James Gosling, an HFW consultant, was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 2017 New Year’s Honours. The award was given for work he carried out in his former role as head of the admiralty department at HFW, pioneering the global shipping industry’s response to maritime piracy in Somalia.

Insight

Reviews

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The Middle Eastern and African Arbitration Review 2019

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CRCICA Overview

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The Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (CRCICA)

DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Overview

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DIFC Arbitration Institute (DAI)

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DIFC-LCIA Arbitration Centre