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'Very limited rights of challenge' to arbitration award: Mr Justice Mostyn

Challenges to arbitration awards to be fast-tracked for allocation to a High Court judge

Mr Justice Mostyn has given judgment in favour of the husband on his application that the wife do show cause why an arbitral award (as supplemented) made by Mr Gavin Smith dated 2 July 2015 should not be made an order of the court.

In DB v DLJ [[2016] EWHC 324 (Fam) the wife argued that the award was vitiated by a mistake about the true value of the property in Portugal allocated to her. Alternatively, she submitted that events had occurred since the award which invalidated the finding made by the arbitrator as to the value of that property.

The judgment includes a study on the extremely limited challenges that may be made to arbitral awards. Mostyn J says:

"It can therefore be seen that when parties sign up to arbitration under the 1996 Act they 'buy' very limited rights of challenge. These rights do not extend to a challenge based on a mistake in the production of evidence or as a result of a supervening event."

He then qualifies this by saying:

"However, I do not conclude that the door to relief is closed to the wife. This is because of certain important differences between the family and civil processes."

He goes on to say that, in fact, mistake, supervening event and fraud can vitiate an award.

This is yet another case where leading members of the judiciary have lent their wholehearted support to the family arbitration scheme. In the course of his judgment, Mostyn J referred to the award as "a thorough, conscientious and clear piece of work. Its quality is a testament to the merit of opting for arbitration"'.

Mostyn J notes that, since the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators launched family arbitration in February 2012, divorcing couples are afforded the same advantages as have been made available to commercial people for over a century.

Mostyn J also rationalises and fast-tracks the procedure in such matters. In the future any notice to show cause why an arbitration award should not be made an order of the court must, for London and the South Eastern Circuit, be issued in the Royal Courts of Justice and immediately placed before Mostyn J himself for allocation to a High Court judge for speedy determination. If the application is issued outside London or the South Eastern Circuit then it must be immediately placed before the Family Division Liaison Judge who will arrange for it to be heard speedily by him or her or another High Court judge (including a section 9 judge). "It is important for the promotion of the arbitration system that litigants should know that if a challenge to an arbitration award is raised that it will be heard by a High Court judge at the soonest opportunity", he says. 

The judgment is here.

Tony Roe, principal and family law arbitrator, Tony Roe Divorce and Family Law Solicitors

For an article - What is it like to arbitrate? by Alexander Chandler of 1 King's Bench Walk - please click here

28/2/16 (edited 29/2/16)