Just three years ago, the British Virgin Islands had an outdated Arbitration Act that had not been amended since its passage in 1976 and which incorporated neither the Model Law nor the New York Convention. It could not on any grounds compete with other, already well-established arbitration jurisdictions as a possible venue for arbitration proceedings. A lot has changed since then.
In 2010, a Commercial Court was established, providing a specialised forum for litigation – but arbitration continued to lag behind. Now, the British Virgin Islands has a new Arbitration Act. Based substantially on the Model Law, the Arbitration Act was passed by Parliament on 17 December 2013 and is awaiting royal assent.
The Arbtration Act provides for the establishment of a British Virgin Islands International Arbitration Centre.
There will be no stamp duty on arbitral awards.
The multiple mechanisms for enforcing awards are to be replaced with a single test for enforcement.
New York Convention
The Arbitration Act does not deal with the accession of the British Virgin Islands to the New York Convention because the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office manages international relations for the British Virgin Islands. However, the Act complies with the requirements of the New York Convention, and the UK has since extended the application of the Convention to the British Virgin Islands from 25 May 2014. This means that a British Virgin Islands arbitration award will now be, prima facie, enforceable in the many countries which have acceded to the New York Convention.
Given the number of companies, holding companies, joint ventures, hedge funds and trust funds established in the British Virgin Islands or conducting business there, this part of the world clearly has significant potential as an arbitration venue.