08 May 2019
The UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for ADR met on the 29th of April for a two-hour session discussing London’s future as an international dispute resolution centre. CIArb serves as Secretariat to the group and with close to 50 members in attendance, the event had to be moved to a larger room in Parliament.
John Howell MP, Chair of the APPG for ADR opened the session. He invited witnesses to speak, and after they were questioned by the panel of MPs (John Howell MP—APPG for ADR Chair; Christina Rees MP—APPG for ADR VC and Shadow Secretary of State for Wales; Alberto Costa MP—APPG for ADR member; and John Spellar MP—Chair of the APPGs for Singapore and Transatlantic Trade).
The witnesses presented on the topics of the current landscape of dispute resolution in London and future challenges and opportunities. The panel consisted of Jonathan Wood (Head of International Arbitration at RPC, CIArb Chair of the Board of Trustees); Jordan Cummins (CBI Senior Associate—London Policy); Paula Hodges QC (Head of Global Arbitration Practice at Herbert Smith Freehills and VP of the LCIA Court); Lucy Greenwood (independent arbitrator and CIArb Trustee); and Audley Sheppard QC (LCIA Board Chair, Global Co-Head of International Arbitration at Clifford Chance).
A number of interesting issues surfaced repeatedly during the session.
Firstly, panellists were unanimous that the future is bright for arbitration. Paula Hodges QC felt globalisation would mean the continued expansion of complicated cross-border deals, which only arbitration (backed by the New York Convention) could adequately enforce. Jordan Cummins put forward the positive predictions of CBI members, who expect further growth in this area.
Panellists agreed however that London would have to work hard to maintain its current status as a leading centre for international ADR. Audley Sheppard QC highlighted the work of the LegalUK Group (to which CIArb is Secretariat), and the timeliness of this session occurring just one week in advance of London International Disputes Week. The global pivot towards Asia and the recent growth of a number of other seats were seen as providing stiff competition.
Panellists and MPs were particularly interested in what role governments could play in supporting ADR. This question is to be the topic of a fact-finding trip to Singapore by the APPG in August 2019 (supported by CIArb), where John Howell MP and John Spellar MP will see Singapore’s arbitration sector in person. Jonathan Wood emphasised the London Centenary Principles as an important framework for policymakers. Panellists felt London’s strength lay in a number of areas, most prominently reputation, formal legal infrastructure, expertise and incorruptibility. A particular focus throughout was the strength of English Law globally and its business-friendly reputation for flexibility, predictability and fairness.
However, witnesses and audience participants felt there was more government could do. Physical facilities were repeatedly raised, with practitioners recounting tales of top-class facilities they had visited overseas. More could be done to increase awareness of arbitration among smaller companies and for lower-value cases. The government could also provide greater support for profile-raising activities and ensure it worked with the sector of messaging. Lucy Greenwood also made clear that any suggestions of amendments that would dilute confidentiality or expand appellate mechanisms in the 1996 Arbitration Act could reduce the business-friendly features of English Law. Participants raised the work CIArb is doing with various governments on these fronts and praised the recent receptiveness of the Ministry of Justice.
The Parliamentarians were interested to learn more about issues of diversity and ethics in arbitration. John Howell MP was keen to understand more about the position of arbitrators from a non-legal background, and admitted a special interest in the topic due to his plans to take training in the area with CIArb shortly. Christina Rees MP (herself a former barrister) added that in her view you could never get enough lawyers. A series of excellent audience questions prompted discussion around appointments, with the work of CIArb branches commended for advocating diversity but a consensus that it remains an area for further work. The promotion of CIArb guidelines and ethics was also discussed, with panellists considering high professional ethics to be crucial for the ‘brand’ of arbitration.
Finally, no discussion in Britain in 2019 can be complete without reference to Brexit. MPs were intrigued to hear what witnesses felt the effects would be for arbitration. The panellists agreed that there would be little direct impact, however they worried about indirect issues on a number of fronts. Firstly, any tarnishing of London’s pro-business brand risks damaging its reputation as a seat. Secondly, Brexit provided impetus for competing seats to try to capture business. It was also suggested that any damage to London’s status as a financial centre could have global repercussions for the use of English Law within contracts, and thus also for the choice of London as a seat.
Overall, panellists predicted a bright future for arbitration in the UK. It was excellent to see the extent to which Parliamentarians engaged with the issues, and the MPs in turn were impressed by the professional commitment of the CIArb membership. CIArb is looking forward to ongoing work with governments and policymakers globally to continue to deliver on our core mission.
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Please contact Robin Hayden on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to get involved with CIArb’s policy work.
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