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27 April 2020

Serle Court launches 'off-the-shelf' arbitration service to bypass Covid-19 court delays

Barristers offer 80-day service as group of senior judges and academics call for courts to be given 'breathing space'

Portrait of John Machell

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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Further reading on the Covid-19 pandemic

Under lockdown socialising between international colleagues has increased — Colin Passmore outlines the measures Simmons & Simmons has been taking to promote staff wellbeing during the Covid-19 crisis

After Covid-19 lockdown will virtual arbitrations become the new normal? — Michela D'Avino and Bahaa Ezzelarab argue that remote arbitration hearings should be carefully considered as an option to avoid costly delays

A question of timing: the different responses of US and UK elite law firms to Covid-19 — Looming decisions over associate pay and bonuses are a factor in the timing of UK law firm Coronavirus measures

Above all, this crisis too will pass — Rob Millard foresees large law firm mergers and accelerated digitisation in the wake of Covid-19

'It is about being proactive and decisive' — Norton Rose Fulbright EMEA managing partner Peter Scott on the thinking behind the firm's flexible working scheme

General counsel braced for six-month shock to their businesses, survey finds — MoFo poll of 110 GCs finds them making unprecedented decisions as HR issues dominate

'Now is the time for law firms to deliver on their stated values' — Consultant Tony Williams advises law firm leaders to avoid knee jerk decisions and go into communication overdrive during the Covid-19 crisis

Unprecedented response to Covid-19 is 'testament to legal profession's resilience — Stewart Salwin is impressed by how quickly the Arizona courts have adapted to the coronavirus crisis

Staff welfare, supply chain and privacy: the coronavirus-related issues keeping GCs awake at night  — Linklaters, Baker McKenzie and Ropes & Gray have published the most sought-after briefings, according to Lexology

'I have realised how powerful technology now is': an Italian lawyer's take on Covid-19 — The lockdown is forcing Italians to embrace digitisation - and that even includes its public officials, writes Gabriella Geatti

Coronavirus risk may be unprecedented, but the fundamental principles of crisis response still apply — Crisis PR specialist Bethaney Durkin advises law firms impacted by the coronavirus to act quickly while avoiding a kneejerk response

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