Harbour Assurance Co (UK) Ltd v Kansa General International Insurance Co Ltd: CA 7 Apr 1993

An action was brought by re-insurers for a declaration that reinsurance policies were void for illegality, and that the plaintiffs were not liable under them. The illegality alleged was that the defendants were not registered or approved to carry on insurance or reinsurance business under the Insurance Companies Acts. The illegality was denied, and the defendant sought a stay and reference to arbitration.
Held: A stay was granted. An arbitration clause in an insurance contract was separate from the main contract with the effect that (a) invalidity of the main contract did not deprive the arbitrator of jurisdiction, and (b) the arbitrator had jurisdiction to decide the question of illegality of the main contract.
Ralph Gibson LJ: ‘Mr Longmore pointed out that a party to a contract the making of which he says was induced by fraud, would be surprised to be told that he is bound to have the issue tried by an arbitrator appointed under a clause in that contract. He also pointed out that when such a party alleges that the contract is void for illegality, he might well be astonished to be told that the issue of that illegality is to be determined by an arbitrator appointed under it.
There is, I think, force in these comments, but I add that in my view they are no more than forceful comments. Mr Justice Steyn said that the question of fraud or initial illegality was capable of being referred to arbitration. He did not qualify the clearly stated principle that if the validity of the arbitration clause itself is attacked the issue cannot be decided by the arbitrator. His reference to direct impeachment was, as I understand his judgment, to distinguish an attack upon the clause otherwise than by the logical proposition that the clause falls within the containing contract. When it is said that the contract was induced by fraud it may well be clear that, if it was, the making of the independent arbitration clause was also induced by fraud.’
Hoffmann LJ: ‘Mr Longmore therefore accepts, as he must, that for some purposes the arbitration clause is treated as severable and may survive the termination or even the avoidance with retrospective effect of all the other obligations under the contract .. He submits however that the severability doctrine cannot apply to any rule which prevents the contract from coming into existence or makes it void ab initio. In particular, it does not apply to a statute or other rule of law which makes the contract void for illegality.
It seems to me impossible to accept so sweeping a proposition. There will obviously be cases in which a claim that no contract came into existence necessarily entails a denial that there was any agreement to arbitrate. Cases of non est factum or denial that there was a concluded agreement, or mistake as to the identity of the other contracting party suggest themselves as examples. But there is no reason why every case of initial invalidity should have this consequence.’


Ralph Gibson LJ, Hoffmann LJ


Gazette 07-Apr-1993, [1993] 1 QB 701, [1993] 1 Lloyd’s Law Reports 455


Arbitration Act 1979 1


England and Wales


Appeal fromHarbour Assurance Co (Uk) Ltd v Kansa General International Insurance Co Ltd 1993
The Court said that older (pre Heyman v Darwins Ltd) authorities about the width of arbitration clauses had to be approached with some care and that the words ‘arising from the contract’ have almost invariably been treated as ‘words of very wide . .

Cited by:

CitedSoleimany v Soleimany CA 4-Mar-1998
The parties were Iranian Jews, father and son. The son arranged to export carpets from Iran in contravention of Iranian law. The father and son fell into dispute about their contracts and arranged for the issues to be resolved by the Beth Din . .
CitedLesotho Highlands Development Authority v Impregilo Spa and others HL 30-Jun-2005
The House had to consider whether the arbitrator had acted in excess of his powers under s38, saying the arbitrator had misconstrued the contract. The arbitrator had made his award in different currencies.
Held: The question remained whether . .
CitedFiona Trust and Holding Corp and others v Privalov and others ComC 20-Oct-2006
The parties disputed whether their claim should be arbitrated.
Held: A claim as to whether the contract itself had been made was not one which could be arbitrated by provisions in that contract. It does not arise ‘under’ the contract. The . .
CitedFiona Trust and Holding Corporation and others v Privalov and others CA 24-Jan-2007
The court was asked whether when contracts have been induced by bribery and have been rescinded on discovery of the bribery, that constitutes a dispute which can be determined by arbitration in the context of a common form of arbitration clause.
CitedPremium Nafta Products Ltd (20th Defendant) and others v Fili Shipping Company Ltd and others; Fiona Trust and Holding Corporation v Privalov HL 17-Oct-2007
The owners of a ship sought to rescind charters saying that they had been procured by bribery.
Held: A claim to rescind a contract by reason of bribery fell within the scope of an arbitration clause under which the parties had agreed to refer . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Arbitration, Insurance

Updated: 26 October 2022; Ref: scu.81228