ARBITRATION OF DIGITAL DISPUTES IN SMART CONTRACTS AND THE RELEASE OF THE DIGITAL DISPUTE RESOLUTION RULES FROM THE UK JURISDICTION TASKFORCE

On 22 April 2021 the UK Jurisdiction Taskforce (UKJT), a government-backed initiative chaired by Sir Geoffrey Vos, Master of the Rolls, and led by LawTech UK, published the Digital Dispute Resolution Rules (the Digital DR Rules). The aim of the Digital DR Rules is to enable the rapid resolution of blockchain and crypto legal disputes, offering users a procedural framework and a choice of either arbitration or expert determination.

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UPCOMING WEBINAR: MEDIATION IN ARBITRATION

On Thursday 18 March 2021 at 10.45 am (GMT) speakers from Herbert Smith Freehills will join the panel for a live London Chamber of Arbitration and Mediation (LCAM) webinar on Mediation in Arbitration.

The recent Mediation in Arbitration Survey conducted jointly by Herbert Smith Freehills and LCAM highlighted the impressive settlement rates for mediation of arbitration cases. The survey also showed that high value arbitrations are being resolved via mediation and covered the stage of the proceedings at which such mediations typically occur and the extent to which they feature in mediator caseload.

This webinar will look at these and other insights from the survey and will also discuss the current take-up of mediation in international arbitration and how that could potentially be increased.

Speakers:

  • Craig Tevendale, Partner, International Arbitration, London
  • Chris Parker, Partner, International Arbitration, London
  • Rebecca Warder,  Professional Support Lawyer, International Arbitration, London
  • Kathryn Britten, AlixPartners
  • Jonathan Wood, RPC

To register for this event please click here.

Further details about the responses to the Mediation in Arbitration Survey can be accessed here.

For more information, please contact Craig Tevendale, Partner, Chris Parker, Partner, Rebecca Warder, Professional Support Lawyer, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Craig Tevendale
Craig Tevendale
Partner
+44 20 7466 2445
Chris Parker
Chris Parker
Partner
+44 20 7466 2767
Rebecca Warder
Rebecca Warder
Professional Support Lawyer
+44 20 7466 3418

MEDIATION IN ARBITRATION PODCAST: THE PROFILE OF MEDIATION IN ARBITRATION

We are pleased to share this Mediation in Arbitration podcast, in which Craig Tevendale, Chris Parker and Rebecca Warder discuss the results of the Herbert Smith Freehills and London Chamber of Arbitration and Mediation (LCAM) Mediation in Arbitration Survey. The podcast also covers potential barriers to mediation in international arbitration, how these might be overcome and the future of mediation in arbitration.

The snapshot survey delved into trends in mediation in arbitration, aiming to find out more about the current take-up of mediation in international arbitration. Mediators were asked to fill in the survey in relation to mediations undertaken in 2019 and 2020, answering four very straight-forward questions on:

  • the stage at which these mediations occur
  • their claim values
  • the proportion of mediator caseload they made up; and
  • how often mediation in arbitration leads to settlement

Over 50 mediators completed the online survey. Despite the majority of the time period covered by the survey falling into the pre-Covid-19-pandemic era, mediations in the later months of 2020 also fell into the survey window and in that timeframe patterns of claims, and also to some extent perhaps approaches to settlement, will have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. While it will take some time to tease out the impact of Covid-19 on mediation patterns, the fact that the survey covered 2020 as well as 2019 means it provides a reasonably current picture.

The survey results highlighted the following key trends:

  • The timing of mediation: the survey showed fairly overwhelmingly that mediations in arbitration usually happen at the pre-document production stage. In fact, only 6% of the mediators who had experience of mediation in arbitration had not done a mediation pre-document production in 2019 or 2020.
  • The value of disputes mediated: high value arbitration claims are being resolved in mediation. The majority of mediators we surveyed who reported having some experience of mediation in arbitration said that they had carried out mediations in cases worth over £10M.
  • Mediator caseload: a quarter of the mediators had quite a significant mediation in arbitration practice, with around a third of their caseload made up of those cases. 10% of our survey sample had a lot of these cases and told us that the majority of their mediations were arbitration cases.
  • Settlement rates: the success rates which were reported by the majority of the mediators were pretty impressive. Just under half of the mediators who said they had mediated arbitration cases had settled at least 70% of these cases at the mediation across 2019 and 2020. Most of these mediators were reporting a success rate in the 80% plus bracket.

The podcast can be listened to on SoundCloud, Spotify and iTunes.

The results of the survey have been published here if you would like to read in more detail.

For further information, please contact Craig Tevendale, Partner, Chris Parker, Partner, Rebecca Warder, Professional Support Lawyer or your usual Herbert Smith contact.

Craig Tevendale
Craig Tevendale
Partner
+44 20 7466 2445
Chris Parker
Chris Parker
Partner
+44 20 7466 2767
Rebecca Warder
Rebecca Warder
Professional Support Lawyer
+44 20 7466 3418

UK Supreme Court judgment in Halliburton v Chubb clarifies English law on arbitrator apparent bias

The UK Supreme Court has handed down its judgment in Halliburton Company (Appellant) v Chubb Bermuda Insurance Ltd [2020] UKSC 48, which is the most significant decision on English arbitration law in nearly a decade.

The Halliburton judgment is now the leading English law case on arbitrator conflicts. Importantly, the decision has clarified how apparent bias will be assessed by the English courts, refining the test in the context of arbitration. While the arbitrator challenge was not successful in this case, the judgment has re-emphasised the importance of arbitrator impartiality in English-seated arbitration.      

The case was notable for a significant number of arbitral institutions and organisations being given permission by the Court to intervene, with submissions made by the LCIA, ICC, CIArb, LMAA and GAFTA.

Background 

Claims arising out of the Deepwater Horizon incident were made against Halliburton, which had provided offshore services in relation to the project. Halliburton then sought to claim in turn under its excess liability insurance policy with Chubb. Chubb rejected the claim and in January 2015 Halliburton commenced arbitration against Chubb. The claim was brought under the Bermuda Form policy in question, which was governed by New York law and provided for London-seated ad hoc arbitration.

The parties were unable to agree on the selection of the presiding arbitrator and the English High Court appointed Kenneth Rokison QC in June 2015. Mr Rokison had been proposed by Chubb, but Halliburton had opposed his appointment on the grounds that Mr Rokison was an English lawyer, whereas the policy was governed by New York law.

Before he was appointed in June 2015, Mr Rokison disclosed that he had previously been an arbitrator in arbitrations involving Chubb, including some appointments on behalf of Chubb. The judgment does not set out the number of appointments involved, or the timescales. He also disclosed that he was acting as arbitrator in relation to two current references involving Chubb.

After Mr Rokison took up his appointment in the arbitration between Halliburton and Chubb, he accepted two appointments in additional arbitrations relating to the Deepwater Horizon incident: (a) in December 2015, he was appointed by Chubb in an arbitration relating to a claim under the same excess liability cover, which Chubb had sold to another insured party, Transocean; and (b) in August 2016, he was appointed by Transocean, in an arbitration relating to a claim Transocean was bringing against a different insurer that related to the same layer of insurance. Mr Rokison did not disclose the December 2015 and August 2016 appointments to Halliburton, but Halliburton became aware of them in November 2016.

Halliburton then asked Mr Rokison to resign, but he stated that he did not feel he could do so, as he had been appointed by the court. Mr Rokison noted that the issues under consideration were neither the same nor similar. He stated that he had been independent and impartial throughout and that this would continue to be the case. Halliburton then made an application to the English court for his removal under s24 of the Arbitration Act 1996. The application was unsuccessful and Halliburton then appealed to the Court of Appeal, which also rejected the challenge. Halliburton appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court appeal

The two main issues before the Supreme Court were:

  • whether and to what extent an arbitrator is entitled to accept appointments in multiple arbitrations relating to the same or overlapping matters and where there is only one common party, without this resulting in an appearance of bias; and
  • whether and to what extent the arbitrator could accept multiple appointments in this way without providing disclosure.

Halliburton took the position that there was apparent unconscious bias on the part of Mr Rokison. Halliburton’s case was based on the suggestion that the situation “gave Chubb the unfair advantage of being a common party to two related arbitrations with a joint arbitrator while Halliburton was ignorant of the proceedings” in the later arbitrations and “thus unaware whether and to what extent he would be influenced in reference 1 by the arguments and evidence in reference 2”. Halliburton contended that Chubb would be able to communicate with the arbitrator, for example via submissions and evidence submitted in the later proceedings, on questions that might be relevant to the arbitration between Halliburton and Chubb. Haliburton took the position that apparent bias was also made out by Mr Rokison’s failure to disclose his later appointments to Halliburton. There was also a suggestion that Mr Rokison “did not pay proper regard to Halliburton’s interest in the fairness of the procedure”.

Supreme Court decision

The Supreme Court emphasised the importance of impartiality in arbitration, highlighting that impartiality had always been a “cardinal duty” for arbitrators. Given that there was no allegation that the arbitrator was actually biased, the court was only concerned with whether there was an appearance of bias. It was well established that the correct legal test was “whether the fair-minded and informed observer, having considered the facts, would conclude that there was a real possibility that the tribunal was biased.

The Supreme Court considered how the hypothetical observer is taken to be “informed”. This meant, quoting an earlier case, that “before she takes a balanced approach to any information she is given, she will take the trouble to inform herself on all matters that are relevant…She is fair-minded, so she will appreciate that the context forms an important part of the material which she must consider before passing judgment.” When the apparent bias test is applied to arbitrators, the distinctive features of arbitration must therefore be taken into account. This includes a consideration of the private nature of arbitration, and the very limited rights of appeal. The Supreme Court also referred to the appointment process for arbitrators, noting the potential for party nomination and that there may be a “financial interest in obtaining further appointments as arbitrator”. It also observed that arbitrators may be non-lawyers with only limited experience of arbitration and may be from a variety of jurisdictions and legal traditions, with a range of views on arbitrator ethics.

The Supreme Court emphasised that, due to the private nature of arbitration, where an arbitrator is appointed in relation to multiple overlapping references the non-common party cannot discover what evidence or submissions have been put before the tribunal, or the arbitrator’s response. The Court also had regard to the range of understandings in relation to the role and duties of party-appointed arbitrators, recognising that some parties may expect party-nominated arbitrators to be pre-disposed towards their nominating parties, while the chair has a particular role to play in ensuring the tribunal acts fairly. While taking these differing perspectives into account, the duty of impartiality applied in the same way to every member of the tribunal and “the party-appointed arbitrator in English law is expected to come up to precisely the same high standards of fairness and impartiality as the person chairing the tribunal”.

While the professional reputation and experience of an individual arbitrator was a relevant consideration in assessing whether there was apparent bias, the Court noted this was likely to be a factor accorded only limited weight.

Duty of disclosure

The Supreme Court confirmed that an arbitrator is under a duty to disclose facts and circumstances which would or might reasonably give rise to the appearance of bias. The Supreme Court held that compliance with this duty should be assessed with regard to the circumstances at the time the disclosure fell to be made.

The Court noted that the LCIA, ICC and CIArb, as organisations having “an interest in the integrity and reputation of English-seated arbitration”, had all argued in favour of the recognition of a legal duty of disclosure. The Court stated that this legal duty furthered transparency in arbitration and was in alignment with the best practice set out in the IBA Guidelines and the approach taken by arbitration institutions such as the LCIA and ICC. The Court said that the IBA Guidelines “assist the court in identifying what is an unacceptable conflict of interest and what matters may require disclosure” but emphasised that they are non-binding.

The Supreme Court stated that an arbitrator may have to disclose acceptance of appointments in multiple overlapping references with only one common party, depending upon the customs and practice of the type of arbitration in question. The judgment explores in some detail the need to consider the duty of confidentiality in determining what information about potential conflicts may be disclosed.

The Court also explored the relationship between the duty to disclose and the duty of impartiality and concluded that failure to disclose will be one factor which the fair-minded and informed observer will take into account in considering whether there was a real possibility of bias. However, the Court held that questions of disclosure and apparent bias fell to be assessed at different times. Whereas the question of whether there was a failure to disclose was analysed as at the time the alleged duty of disclosure arose, the question of whether the relevant circumstances in any case amount to apparent bias must be assessed at the time of the hearing of the challenge to the arbitrator.

The Supreme Court held that failure to disclose overlapping references is capable of demonstrating “a lack of regard to the interests of the non-common party” and may in certain circumstances therefore constitute apparent bias.

Rejection of challenge

The Court held that, in the context of the Bermuda Form arbitration between Halliburton and Chubb, the Arbitrator was required to disclose the multiple appointments in question. This was because there was no established custom or practice in Bermuda Form arbitration of allowing an arbitrator to take on multiple and overlapping appointments without disclosure. Mr Rokison was therefore under a legal duty to disclose his appointment in the subsequent overlapping proceedings because, at the time of appointment in those arbitrations, those appointments might reasonably give rise to the real possibility of bias.

However, the Supreme Court concluded that the fair-minded and informed observer would not determine that there was a real possibility of bias. This was because:

  1. At the time the disclosure fell to be made there had been uncertainty under English law about the existence and scope of an arbitrator’s duty of disclosure;
  2. The time sequence of the arbitrations may have been an explanation for the non-disclosure to Halliburton;
  3. Mr Rokison had explained that both the subsequent overlapping arbitrations would be resolved by way of preliminary issue, which meant there would in fact be no overlapping evidence or submissions. Mr Rokison had offered to resign from the subsequent arbitrations if that was not the case and it was therefore unlikely that Chubb would benefit as a result of the overlapping arbitrations;
  4. Mr Rokison had not received any secret financial benefit; and
  5. Mr Rokison’s response to the challenge had been “courteous, temperate and fair…and there is no evidence that he bore any animus towards Halliburton as a result”.

Comment

This judgment has emphasised the importance of arbitrator impartiality and has both clarified and refined the law on apparent bias in the context of arbitration. The case is of real significance for the wider international arbitration community, and should allay potential concerns as to London’s status as a leading seat of arbitration.

The decision is the latest case to demonstrate the robust approach of the English courts to arbitrator challenges, in line with the courts’ non-interventionist and pro-arbitration stance. In this case the Supreme Court noted that challenges of this kind have “rarely succeeded” and also noted that the objective observer at the heart of the apparent bias test will be “alive to the possibility of opportunistic or tactical challenges”.

For more information, please contact Craig Tevendale, Head of International Arbitration London, Chris Parker, Partner, Vanessa Naish, Professional Support Consultant, Rebecca Warder, Professional Support Lawyer, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Craig Tevendale
Craig Tevendale
Head of International Arbitration London
+44 20 7466 2445
Chris Parker
Chris Parker
Partner
+44 20 7466 2767
Vanessa Naish
Vanessa Naish
Professional Support Consultant
+44 20 7466 2112
Rebecca Warder
Rebecca Warder
Professional Support Lawyer
+44 20 7466 3418

LCAM/HSF MEDIATION IN ARBITRATION SURVEY

Herbert Smith Freehills is joining with the London Chamber of Arbitration and Mediation to conduct a new Mediation in Arbitration Survey.

The survey should provide a valuable opportunity to ascertain the current take-up of mediation in international arbitration. The survey also aims to identify the stages of the dispute at which such mediations most commonly occur, their claim values and settlement rates.

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ETHIOPIA ACCEDES TO THE NEW YORK CONVENTION

On 24 August 2020 Ethiopia acceded to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “Convention“). Ethiopia will become the 165th state party to the Convention, following the recent accession of Tonga in June this year. Under Article XII (2), the Convention will come into force for Ethiopia on 22 November 2020.

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English High Court dismisses challenge to enforcement of award where award debtor allegedly unable to engage a hearing advocate

In a recent application (Shell Energy Europe Limited v Meta Energia SpA [2020] EWHC 1799 (Comm)), the English court dismissed a challenge to the court’s previous order under s66 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (“the Act”) granting leave to enforce an award. The challenge was made on the ground that the applicant was not able to participate in the merits hearing in the arbitration, due to difficulty in securing an advocate. In circumstances where the evidence “fell well short” of persuading the Court that the applicant had no choice but to cease its hearing participation, the challenge was unsuccessful.

Background

The applicant in this case, Meta Energia SpA (“Meta”) had participated fully in the underlying LCIA arbitration until the last stage. Less than 10 days ahead of the planned two-day final merits hearing, Meta dismissed its entire legal team, saying this was because it was unsatisfied with the way the legal team had pursued or presented the defence.

Meta was granted a hearing adjournment of two weeks and instructed new solicitors, but said that it was unable to instruct new leading counsel as advocate.

Meta’s new solicitors attended the final hearing, but did not participate other than to make a brief submission that Meta was unable to present its case.

The arbitrators considered whether it was just and appropriate to continue and concluded that it was. The claimant’s legal team reminded the arbitrators of points of substance raised against the claimant, based upon Meta’s written submissions on the merits.

The arbitrators afforded Meta a further period of time to engage with the merits, if it chose to do so after receiving the hearing transcript. Meta did not make any submissions on the merits and did not seek additional time to do so, although it did make a number of comments on costs. The award was then issued in December 2019.

The claimant sought to enforce the award in Italy under the New York Convention, but Meta attempted to resist enforcement there on the basis that Meta had been unable to present its case in the arbitration (Article V.1(b)). The claimant also sought to enforce the award in the UK and in May 2020 had obtained the High Court’s leave pursuant to s66 of the Act to enter judgment in the terms of the award (the “May 2020 enforcement order”). Meta subsequently applied to the Court to set aside the May 2020 enforcement.

S66 of the Act

The summary procedure under s66 of the Act can be used to enforce arbitral awards in arbitrations seated in England and elsewhere. An award creditor can apply to the English court under s66 to enforce an award in the same way as an English court judgment and may also seek judgment in terms of the award. Applications under s66 will be refused either where the award debtor can show that the tribunal lacked substantive jurisdiction (s66(3) of the Act), or where the court refuses the application on discretionary grounds.

In this case Meta sought to persuade the court that there was a “’due process’ complaint”…as a discretionary reason why… [the award] should not be enforced under s.66”.

Court’s decision

The Court was unsympathetic to Meta’s argument that it was not able to participate in the merits hearing because it was unable to be represented by leading counsel.

The Court noted that there was no clarity as to how the applicant’s defence in the arbitration could have been improved or set out differently by any new legal team. In addition, Meta had said it wanted to instruct leading counsel to provide the advocacy at the hearing and ”took the view that it would not participate on the merits unless it could be represented by leading counsel”. Despite this, the Court took the view that Meta could have been appropriately represented at the merits hearing by suitable junior counsel.  The Court went on further to say that Meta did not need to use the Bar and could have instructed suitable solicitors for the advocacy, there being “highly skilled and experienced international arbitration practitioners, not just the Bar”, able to provide advocacy services in arbitration.

No evidence had been put before the court to explain Meta’s decision not to provide written submissions in response to the receipt of the hearing transcript, or to explain how Meta’s position had allegedly been worsened by the hearing having gone ahead.

The Court also noted that no challenge to the award had been made under s68 of the Act, which would be the “normal means to pursue a complaint of lack of due process or other procedural unfairness”. It was in any event clear that there was no arguable basis for any s68 challenge. The arbitrators had been “scrupulously even-handed” and the process “unimpeachably fair”. Meta could have presented and fully developed its case, but simply chose not to do so.

Accordingly, the Court dismissed the challenge, and the May 2020 enforcement order was confirmed.

Comment

This judgment confirms the pro-arbitration stance of the English courts in relation to applications for enforcement under s66 of the Act. While the courts will refuse applications where enforcement would not be in the interests of justice, the courts will not exercise their discretion to deny enforcement on questionable grounds.

For more information, please contact Chris Parker, Partner, Rebecca Warder, Professional Support Lawyer, Peter Chen, Associate, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Chris Parker
Chris Parker
Partner
+44 20 7466 2767
Rebecca Warder
Rebecca Warder
Professional Support Lawyer
+44 20 7466 3418
Peter Chen
Peter Chen
Associate
+44 20 7466 3868

NAVIGATING THE LOW OIL PRICE ENVIRONMENT PODCAST: ALLOCATING CONTRACTUAL RISK AND REWARD WITH HOST STATES

Oil prices have recently reached historic lows and oil companies are faced with a number of potential legal issues as the prices impact their trading and operational agreements. In this podcast series, our energy disputes lawyers consider some of the key issues triggered by the current low oil price environment, looking in detail at a variety of topics around:

  • Host states: allocating value in challenging times
  • Joint Venture arrangements
  • Operational challenges and other contracts

Low commodity prices cause hardship for governments in resource rich countries, as well as the businesses commercialising those resources. In tough times, governments may be prompted to extract a greater share of value from projects to try to balance against a loss of revenue. In the first episode, Craig Tevendale, Chris Parker and Charlie Morgan discuss the key contractual mechanisms for allocating risk and reward with States, and how best these challenges can be addressed.

The episode can be found at the link here.

For more information, please contact Craig Tevendale, Partner, Chris Parker, Partner, Charlie Morgan, Senior Associate, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Craig Tevendale
Craig Tevendale
Partner
+44 20 7466 2445

Chris Parker
Chris Parker
Partner
+44 20 7466 2767

Charlie Morgan
Charlie Morgan
Senior Associate
+44 20 7466 2733

ENGLISH HIGH COURT SETS ASIDE LMAA AWARD ON THE BASIS THAT THE ARBITRAL TRIBUNAL LACKED SUBSTANTIVE JURISDICTION

In MVV Environment Davenport Ltd v NTO Shipping GMBH & CO, MV Nortrader [2020] EWHC 1371 Comm, the High Court (the “Court”) set aside an LMAA award on jurisdiction (the “Award”) under s67 Arbitration Act 1996 (the “Act“) on the basis that the arbitral tribunal (the “Tribunal“) lacked substantive jurisdiction over the dispute.

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