London is fast emerging as a city at the forefront of both commercial litigation and international arbitration. Over the last ten years London has experienced a surge in popularity amongst parties wishing to resolve both domestic and international disputes. England has for a long time been regarded as a key financial centre but over recent years the legal prowess of the city has come under sharp focus, the historic origins of its legal system and the high concentration of skilled lawyers located there are pulling in clients and high-value disputes from around the world.

The excitement surrounding London has been bolstered by cultural events such as the 2012 Olympics however there are some sound legal factors that support the choice of London as a forum, notwithstanding the use of English language.  This statement can be supported by the freedom of parties to contract on their own terms and the absence of any overarching principle of good faith. The result of this arrangement is clear – the English system allows parties to enforce the provisions they agreed to without any interference by an overly paternal judiciary. The disclosure process in England reflects the adversarial nature of proceedings, and requires the disclosure of documents that both support the party’s case and those within the scope of the disclosure exercise that support the case of the opposing party. Another benefit that is cited in relation to the English system is the predictability of the Courts; this can be seen as a significant advantage over the procedure in some American states where civil cases are often still heard by juries, and therefore highly uncertain. Despite these clear benefits the slow pace and high cost of the English system remain areas in need of a user-friendly reform.

The vast investment in the English legal system is tangible; in 2011 the new Rolls Building was unveiled. The Court signifies a £300 million investment and a clear attempt to secure London’s future as a prime Commercial Court for parties both domiciled in Europe and beyond. The new Rolls Building is an attractive prospect for international litigants as it offers state of the art facilities, with 55 consultation rooms, in-court video conferencing services and a new electronic filing system. London’s success is supported by the influx of foreign litigants; recent statistics suggest that 90% of commercial disputes in London involved at least one international party. [1] Over the last five years 61.6% of the litigants that turned to London’s Commercial Court were based outside England and Wales. [2]

The international melting pot of litigants is further supplemented by the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA). Founded in 1891 the Court is often selected as the preferred forum for parties wishing to resolve a dispute. In 2011, 80% of the parties to arbitration before the Court were of a non-UK origin.[3] In addition, the Arbitration Act 1996 enables courts to enforce arbitral awards in the same manner as if they had been handed down in the form of a court order, an appealing arrangement for parties located around the world. However a recent GAR live panel event demonstrated that London is not always the first choice of seat for all in-house counsel. The panel broadly agreed that London can often be a slow and costly process.[4] In their view this frustration is further compounded by the fact the evidentiary hearing may end up taking 5 weeks rather than one due to the fact that English arbitrator’s refuse to accept written testimony without cross-examination. [5]

Traditionally Paris has been considered the home of international arbitration due to the fact the Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce is located there. This view is supported by the fact that since its founding in 1923 parties have flocked to the city to resolve their international disputes. Moreover in 2008 the ICC Hearing Centre was opened which features state of the art court rooms especially designed for arbitration and alternative dispute resolution. In 2013 the world headquarter of the ICC moved into a new building, but what is more important, remained in Paris !

Kenneth Clarke MP summed up London’s appeal when lecturing in 2011; he reasoned that the UK had become the world’s legal advisor because “a decision from a UK Court comes with a global guarantee of impartiality, integrity and enforceability”.[6] Although many jurisdictions look set to challenge London’s supremacy as the premiere legal forum, its dominance appears protected for the time being. The question of whether Paris or London will lead the field of international arbitration appears at present very difficult to assess. However one thing remains certain, the pursuit of court proceedings or arbitration are both increasingly time consuming and costly processes. A concern frequently cited is the fact that the outcome of the process is often contrary to the wishes of both parties. It is possible that over the forthcoming years mediation will become an increasingly favoured option due to the sensitive approach it offers which may often be more appropriate for certain disputes.

[1]’The Rolls Building, London’s Trump Card’,  The Gazette, Neil Hodge 9 February 2012 [2] [3] Lecture delivered by Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, ‘Arbitration: What Makes London So Special?’, International Arbitration Centre, 15 November 2012. [4] ‘The place of arbitration: an in-house view’, Global Arbitration Review, Douglas Thomson, 12 December 2013 [5] Ibid [6] Lecture delivered by Rt. Hon Kenneth Clarke MP, CityUK Future Litigation event, Clifford Chance, 14 September 2011