Despite the current political uncertainty, the English Courts continue to see high levels of international and cross-border litigation, as international businesses continue to choose to litigate in England rather than in other jurisdictions.
Statistics from a recent Commercial Courts report demonstrates this; between March 2018 and March 2019, London’s Commercial Courts heard 258 cases involving 1,102 litigants, 60% of whom were from outside the UK. The same report also found that (unsurprisingly) the US topped the list of nationalities other than the UK of litigants in London’s Commercial Courts. This was followed by Kazakhstan, Russia and India, with Ukraine entering the top 10 for the first time in five years.1
So why is London such a hub for international dispute resolution?
1. Commitment to the rule of law
The importance of the rule of law cannot be underestimated. The development of English common law and legal precedent creates stability and predictability, but it also creates the ability for the law to adapt to changing market conditions. This allows businesses to readily understand the law and predict the approach that the English Courts will take to its interpretation.
2. The quality, independence and integrity of the judiciary
The judiciary is drawn from the senior ranks of the legal profession, meaning that strong technical expertise is a given. Crucially, in English Courts, international litigants do not suffer any disadvantage simply because they are international. Moral courage and integrity are the hallmarks of the judiciary, who make decisions based upon the law and the facts alone and without external pressures. This cannot always be said for judges in some other jurisdictions.
3. Willingness to innovate
UK Courts continuously assess the service provided to litigants and strive to adapt quickly to reflect changing demands. For example, the use of technology is rapidly increasing, with the implementation of effective e-filing services, the evolution of an online civil claims court, and the creation of an Artificial Intelligence Advisory Panel. Courts have also introduced methods enabling parties to choose shorter and more flexible processes (such as the new disclosure pilot and shorter and flexible trials schemes) and are acutely aware of the need to reduce the costs associated with litigation.
4. Availability of high quality legal advice and dispute resolution services
Our legal profession is of exceptionally high calibre and has a strong reputation for being honest and independent. London also has a reputation for providing high quality mediation and arbitration services, including an impressive new International Arbitration Centre which opened in February 2019.
By way of example, we consider why the English Courts are so well-placed to handle financial services disputes:
Since 2015, a specialist court dealing with financial matters has been successfully operating in London under the umbrella of the Business and Property Courts of England and Wales. The Financial List hears cases requiring particular expertise in financial markets, or which raise issues of general importance to the financial markets. Most of the cases heard in the Financial List are international and of high or very high value.
Crucially, the Financial List contributes to legal certainty and stability, by holding regular user meetings and having a specific procedure for market test cases, which allows financial market issues to be determined even where there is no dispute between the parties. Judges in the Financial List are allocated to a case throughout, ensuring consistency, and judges are specifically educated on financial market issues, resulting in better informed decisions, and reduced time and cost.
Will Brexit impact London’s position as an international litigation powerhouse?
Whilst nothing is certain, it seems unlikely that Brexit will drastically affect any of the factors addressed above. It will not result in businesses being any less likely to choose English law and jurisdiction in their contracts, as the well-recognised reasons for choosing English law such as party autonomy, certainty, predictability and flexibility will remain despite the UK’s status as a non-EU country.
Not only is London still open for business, it continues to be a true litigation heavyweight.