Apparent bias and section 24(1)(a) of the Arbitration Act (1996)

The English court seldom removes an arbitrator due to apparent bias (to be distinguished from actual bias), but in the recent case of H1 & Anor v W & Ors [2024] EWHC 382 (Comm), it did. The arbitration concerned film insurance and a dispute over an accident on the film set. The sole arbitrator, a non-lawyer industry specialist nominated by the British Film Institute, was removed for apparent bias following a successful application under section 24(1)(a) of the Arbitration Act 1996.

The judgment is noteworthy for its treatment of section 24 of the Arbitration Act 1996, but also because of Calver J’s decision to anonymise the parties and the arbitrator.

The judgment can be read here: H1 & Anor v W & Ors [2024] EWHC 382 (Comm).

The applicants’ two central objections were that: (1) the arbitrator had improperly criticised a witness (“JH”) for “switching sides”; and (2) the arbitrator had made remarks at a procedural hearing about how he would treat the evidence of the expert witnesses generally, and of one expert witness in particular.

While Calver J was prepared to chalk up to the sole arbitrator’s (in)experience his “unfortunate and misguided” criticism of JH for “switching sides”, he found that the sole arbitrator’s remarks about there being no need to hear the expert witnesses gave the “firm impression of [the sole arbitrator] having already allowed extraneous, illegitimate factors to influence his assessment of evidence which he has not yet heard and, moreover, of not even realising that that is an unfair approach to adopt.”

Citing Simon J in Jackson v Thompson, Calver J concluded that the sole arbitrator’s remarks suggested “a mind that is closed to the consideration and weighing of relevant factors” (Jackson v Thompson [2015] EWHC 218 at [15]). This was sufficient to give rise to justifiable doubts as to his impartiality for section 24(1)(a) purposes, and to justify the sole arbitrator’s removal.

Notably, Calver J considered the fact that the arbitrator – though experienced in his field of industry – was not experienced as an arbitrator and was sitting as a sole arbitrator, so could not benefit from the “tempering influence” of two other co-arbitrators.

In relation to non-disclosure of the arbitrator’s name in the judgment, the biggest single factor for Calver J seems to have been that, given how small the Scandinavian film industry is, revealing the arbitrator’s name was liable to compromise the anonymity of the disputing parties.


Arbitrators need not be lawyers, though often are. Non-lawyer arbitrators (most common in construction, shipping, and commodities disputes) can be valuable in providing the first-hand knowledge of an industry which some lawyer arbitrators may lack. Nonetheless, as H1 & Anor v W shows, parties wishing to appoint non-lawyer arbitrators with little or no prior experience of conducting arbitrations would be well-advised to draft arbitration agreements which call for a three-arbitrator tribunal, including some arbitrators experienced in the conduct of arbitrations, if not also of legal practice.

 The case is also a reminder of the importance of prompt action. The procedural hearing in the arbitration which was central to the judgment took place just a few days before the merits hearing, but in the intervening days the application was made to court to have the arbitrator removed.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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