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The arbitration stars, dominated by former judges, the former solicitor-general’s new ‘job’

The National Business Review

John Bowie

Friday July 15, 2016

Micheal Heron QC

The growth of arbitration has been one of the signature trends in the law in the past decade or more.  Arbitration and mediation (of which more later) are on a growth trajectory that has led to some concern about the decreasing use of the courts to resolve major commercial and civil disputes.

Speed is one important factor in the arbitration’s popularity but so too is confidentiality and the ability to choose an arbitrator in whom the parties have sufficient confidence to achieve a fair result. Certainly, the expertise of the chosen arbitrator is a key factor in achieving a satisfactory process.

LawFuel this week released its second “Arb Stars” list, the top 10 arbitrators in the country and the up-and-comers, as well as some arbitration stars who have made a name for themselves overseas.

The domestic star list is headed by former jurist David Williams QC whose dominance is such that he continues to receive major jobs involving complex, international issues and has been recognised both by his peers and by ranking outfits like Chambers, who says he is “absolutely in the top band on a worldwide level”.  Although based at Bankside Chambers, he can be found abroad on any week or month of the year and runs a band of merry and expert clerks to support his expanding workload.

Another former judge, with 21 years’ judicial experience, and sitting at No 2 on the list is Sir Ian Barker QC, the “grandfather of New Zealand arbitration” but not so ancient as to deny his unquestioned abilities in the construction, energy, insurance, IP, oil and gas and banking arena.

Robert Fisher QC, yet another former judge, sits at No 3, handling an extensive domestic arbitration practice along with an equally extensive mediation practice.  One of his growing areas of practice is high-value family property disputes.

Rod Hansen QC is our fourth judge who has developed a significant mediation and arbitration practice, entering the list at No 7.  His most recent work was the report to government on the compensation for Teina Pora.

The full list can be seen here.

The internationalists
New Zealand’s ability to produce top-quality lawyers at an international level has seen the country punch well above its weight for many years and never more so than in the arbitration field.

Former and present Clifford Chance partners dominate the “internationalist” list, with Audley Sheppard, current vice president of the London Court of International Arbitration, heading that illustrious list.

Also, there is Jason Fry, formerly secretary general of the ICC International Court of Arbitration (Paris), and James Hosking, a former CC partner.

Stephen Jagush QC is global chair of Quinn Emanuel’s international arbitration practice in London and highly respected, as is former Russell McVeagh lawyer and current Boies Schiller & Flexner partner (London) Wendy Miles, QC, who has now been appointed to the ICSID tribunal and is a vice-president of the International lChamber of Commerce’s Court of Arbitration.

See the Internationalists here.

Michael Heron QC’s new job
Former solicitor-general Michael Heron QC is also making his mark in the arbitration field and has set out on a new adventure since resigning his position as solicitor-general  He has also, he tells me, returned to his “primary occupation” of being with his family instead of the weekly commute he previously endured.

His time as solicitor-general saw Mr Heron excited by the prospects of improving access to justice through the digital applications available and also “harnessing the power” of collaboration, such as he saw with the Government Legal Network.

The upshot has been the development of an online dispute resolution system (CODR), which provides online access to experts who can help with mediation and arbitration issues at a fraction of the cost usually encountered.

Using the assistance of a neighbour who has a successful digital business, Mr Heron has found the challenge of setting up his burgeoning business “challenging and fascinating.”  He stresses that the online consultancy is not intended to send work to himself but rather to the growing number of legal experts as a fully independent service.  It’s early days but, if the business can make one person’s experience better, then it would be worth it, he says.

The site can be seen at

The extra judicial behaviour of Justice Wylie
The move by Justice Ed Wylie last week to express his personal apology to John Banks’ wife Amanda was well received by the former MP’s wife, not to mention her husband who described the comments as “brave and honourable.” Mr Banks sought  $190,000 court costs for wrongful conviction over charges relating to an alleged false election return filing but the judge dismissed the bid earlier this week

A senior barrister wrote to me, that the apology was hardly the sort of behaviour that might normally be expected of a High Court judge.  As he commented: “Justice Wylie failed to consider that s18 of the Oaths and Declarations Act 1957 says “without fear or favour, affection or ill will,” so he should not have exhibited public partiality toward Mr Banks as he now arguably cannot be fair and impartial.”