John Machell QC: 'With the best will in the world, court systems are likely to struggle to deliver final decisions with the speed some parties require'
A London set of chambers has launched an ‘off-the-shelf’ ad hoc fixed fee arbitration service to help companies which need a speedy resolution to disputes arising out of Covid-19 disruption.
The service by Serle Court offers to resolve disputes within 80 days at a fixed arbitration fee that operates on a sliding scale, depending on the value of the case.
The initiative comes amid calls by a group of senior UK judges and academics for a ‘breathing space’ in commercial contract disputes to avoid the courts from being overwhelmed by cases.
The British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) is calling for ‘a global exchange of ideas’ to explore how disputing parties can be encouraged to explore alternatives to court action.
Serle Court’s service is the brainchild of John Machell QC, Jennifer Haywood and James Mather and offers a binding arbitral award under a streamlined, online service.
It has provided a standard set of terms that provide for no compulsory document production or live witness evidence with the hearing undertaken by video conference.
Arbitration fees range from £9,800 for cases with a value of less than £100,000 to £24,500 for disputes where more than £1m is at stake.
“With the best will in the world, court systems are likely to struggle to deliver final decisions with the speed some parties require,” said Machell.
He added: “Even where parties have not elected to arbitrate in advance of a dispute, they can do so on an ad hoc basis after the dispute has arisen; they can also agree to replace a reference to one of the arbitration bodies with an ad hoc arrangement.”
Meanwhile, the BIICL initiative, which was launched today, has the support of former presidents of the UK’s Supreme Court Lord Phillips and Lord Neuberger.
Sir William Blair, a former Judge of the London Commercial Court, said: “New thinking is going to be required if the law is to play its full part in getting international commerce back on its feet - within the principle of legal certainty, space needs to be found for renegotiation, and if the contract is no longer viable, equitable solutions."
Earlier this month, HFW and litigation analysts Solomonic released data revealing a 65% slump in claims lodged with the commercial and Chancery courts over the previous four weeks.
However, there is widely expected to be a surge of claims once companies have dealt with the immediate impact of the crisis, with litigation funder Burford Capital predicting ‘a significant increase in the volume of large dollar litigation and arbitration matters’.
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