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GAR 100 - 12th Edition

Holman Fenwick Willan

05 April 2019

Won a significant victory on behalf of a Middle Eastern oil company

Pending cases as counsel 150 (excluding trade association cases)
Value of pending counsel work US$6.5 billion

Headquartered in London, HFW (formerly known as Holman Fenwick Willan) 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 has also started to build its investment treaty practice.

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.


The anchor of the practice is London, which hosts 11 partners that do arbitration. There are other partners in Paris, Geneva, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, 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, and Jakarta 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, Tullow Oil, BP, Hochtief, Noble Resources, Louis Dreyfus, Goldman Sachs and BNP Paribas.

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

Track record

HFW had a victory 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 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

The firm has had a busy year. In its own words, it is handling “hundreds of international arbitrations at any one time.’ This is in addition to its arbitration -related workload at the English High Court.

In particular, the past year has seen an increase in the firm’s investment treaty work. While it continues to defend Greece in a US$1 billion ICSID 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, the firm has also been instructed to act for ICBC Standard Bank in a claim against Serbia and is acting as co-counsel for Hochtief in a claim against Saudi Arabia.

In arbitration-related court proceedings, the firm had a good result in the English Court of Appeal which declined to set aside a CIETAC award from 2014 in favour of the firm’s client, Chinese steel trading company Sinocore International, on illegality grounds, after finding that public policy was not violated.

Last year saw the promotion of Sara Sheffield in Dubai and Adam Richardson in Singapore to partner, as well as the hire of new partner James Harbridge in Dubai from Trowers & Hamlins and partner Ben Bury in Hong Kong from Jones Day.  Partner Noel Campbell relocated to Hong Kong.



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