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Holman Fenwick Willan

21 January 2014

Commodities and insurance are mainstays for this UK firm – and now construction too

Value of pending counsel work:
Treaty cases:
5% of caseload
Current arbitrator appointments:
5 (of which 4 are as sole or chair)
No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:

Building on a long history in international arbitration, Holman Fenwick Willan established a dedicated practice three years ago, headed by partner Damian Honey. The focus has already reaped rewards, it says: the firm referred more arbitrations to the LCIA in 2011 than any other law firm. It was added to the GAR 100 ranking for the first time last year.

Holman Fenwick’s first experience of arbitration came through its shipping and commodities work – especially trade body arbitrations under the auspices of the Grain and Feed Trade Association and Federation of Oils, Seeds and Fats Associations. It still does hundreds of these disputes every year, but has now branched out to working under all the major international arbitration rules in cases seated all around the world.

Holman Fenwick frequently acts in proceedings in the English High Court under the 1996 Arbitration Act, including handling challenges to arbitration awards and interim remedy applications. It has also long been involved in Bermuda Form insurance and reinsurance arbitrations held in London but applying New York law.

Of late, it says it has seen particular demand from clients in the energy and insurance sectors, including in cases seated where the firm does not have an office.

Around 95 per cent of its arbitrations are contract-based. Partners are frequently instructed as expert witnesses in arbitrations.


Most of the names to know are in London, but the firm also has arbitration partners in Paris, Geneva, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Melbourne and Perth. The wider firm also has offices in Brussels, Shanghai and São Paulo, among other cities.

Who uses it?

Clients include mining group Rio Tinto, Maersk Oil Qatar, Trafigura, BP, Noble Resources and BNP Paribas.

The firm has represented a Kazakhstan-based law firm in a London-based arbitration with a former employee, leading to court proceedings in the High Court of Australia and the Commercial Court of England and Wales.

It also acted for Indonesia’s Kaltim Prima Coal in a Singapore arbitration with contractor PT Thiess over the prices charged for mining services in Borneo. The dispute has also generated related English court proceedings.

Another client was Rizhao Steel Holding Group, in China’s Shadong province, which was ordered to pay US$14 million to Mount Gibson Iron Ore following an arbitration in Perth.

In an important case for the maritime sector, it advised China’s state-run Cosco Group, which had chartered a ship captured by Somali pirates. The tribunal (and subsequently the English High Court) had to decide whether the capture of the ship was an “average accident” that made the ship off-hire.

The firm is also rumoured to be advising Swiss and UAE clients in a SIAC arbitration with Sri Lanka’s state-run oil company, Ceypetco.

Track record

A significant win came in 2012, when the firm successfully applied for the removal of an arbitrator at a jurisdictional hearing in an LCIA arbitration over English law arising from an aluminium supply contract.

In PT Thiess v Kaltim Prima Coal, the firm resisted an application by the other side for security payable in relation to a Singapore arbitration before the English High Court.

The firm also heard cases before the Dubai World Tribunal and acted for the Kuwaiti government before the UN Compensation Commission in a case concerning the clean-up costs of the First Gulf War.

Recent events

April 2013 saw the firm grow in two ways: it absorbed London construction boutique, Maxwell Winward, adding three partners and seven associates; and it promoted Hong Kong based disputes lawyer Vincent Liu to partner. A number of its trainees qualified into the arbitration group as well.

In the past year, it was one of the first firms to seek relief under the new emergency arbitrator provisions at SIAC.

In February, Holman Fenwick and barristers from two London chambers persuaded the English High Court to uphold an award in favour of two companies that claimed damages under a reinsurance contract following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The court agreed with the arbitrators that the attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center were separate events for the purposes of the contract.

The firm is pursuing an anti-suit injunction and damages for defamation and malicious prosecution on behalf of Integral Petroleum, which is being sued in Swiss courts for another company’s debts under the “piercing the corporate veil” theory, which Integral says is in violation of an arbitration clause.

Three of the firm’s lawyers are currently sitting as arbitrator. Costas Frangeskides, a Greek national and partner in London, is chairing two ICC cases, while partner Simon Davidson in Singapore is charing tribunals at the ICC and SIAC. Senior associate Judith Prior is also sitting as arbitrator.

Holman Fenwick estimates that 75 per cent of its matters settle after an arbitration has commenced. In January 2013, it settled an LCIA matter seated in Geneva for Trafigura, the night before merits hearings were due to start.

In October, it became one of seven international firms chosen by China’s ministry of commerce for a specialist panel that will advise it on trade disputes.

The firm has hosted arbitration seminars for clients in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney this past year.

Client comment

Konstantin Ryndin, head of the legal department at Integral Petroleum in Switzerland, says his company has a “good working relationship” with Holman Fenwick’s Geneva office. In particular, Ryndin says Matthew Parish is “very well organised, dedicated to his job, responsible, honest, good at creative thinking with a solution to all problems, and client-oriented”.

“Matthew and his team are excellent professionals and committed hard workers, who effectively and promptly respond to clients on various requests (in our case mostly shipping, crude oil and refined oil products trading, and transportation issues) and who are practically available on a 24-hour basis.”

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