Government looks to boost UK legal services industry with 'modernising' overhaul of Arbitration Act

Thu 23 Nov 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Royal Courts of Justice in London

The UK government has said that a proposed change to arbitration law could help cement the UK’s status as a leading provider of global legal services, fending off competition from other countries like France, the Netherlands and Singapore.

The Arbitration Bill, which will amend the Arbitration Act 1996, was introduced into Parliament yesterday (22 November).

The government says that the bill will help solidify the UK’s reputation as the best place in the world to solve legal disputes and provide “faster, simpler and more efficient” resolution processes.

Act

The Arbitration Act was first introduced in 1996.

The bill follows recommendations from the Law Commission in order to make sure the Arbitration Act 1996 remains “effective and responsive”.

Professor Sarah Green, law commissioner for commercial and common law, said the commission’s recommendations maintained the core principles of the 1996 Act while clarifying certain aspects of the law.

Legislation

The government largely accepted the proposals and announced the bill in this year’s King’s Speech.

Among the changes being proposed are protections for arbitrators from “unreasonable” lawsuits, the strengthening of the court’s emergency arbitration powers and the simplification of procedures.

Justice minister, Lord Bellamy, said:

“The UK is a globally-respected hub for legal services, with English and Welsh law the bedrock for the majority of international disputes, and the Arbitration Bill will ensure businesses from around the world continue to come here to resolve their disagreements.”

Threat to English law

In the aftermath of Brexit, several countries set up specialist commercial courts that operated in English, as they aimed to take advantage of the UK’s departure from the EU.

Before the UK formally left the EU, lawyers warned that the UK could lose its status as a premier dispute resolution centre.

Ian Tucker, partner at law firm Burges Salmon, warned in 2017 that the UK “cannot assume that it will continue to be the jurisdiction of choice” for dispute resolution.

Services’ importance

Arbitration in England and Wales is said to be worth £2.5bn to the UK economy in fees alone.

According to one study from the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, since 2010, around 80% of commercial court cases each year have involved at least one foreign party.

The Law Society’s International Data Insights Report 2023 found that the UK’s legal exports grew by almost half a billion to £6.648bn in 2021, with the US being the number one exporter with £2bn in exports.

Trillions of contracts and financial arrangements around the world are governed by English law.