Law Society strikes bullish note as report upholds England and Wales as leading legal jurisdiction internationally

London commercial and arbitration courts outperform rivals in New York, Hong Kong and Singapore, report finds
Outside The Rolls Building in London

The Rolls Building, Royal Courts of Justice, London Shutterstock

The Law Society of England and Wales has released a report to coincide with the IBA annual conference in Paris that asserts London’s position as the most attractive centre for commercial litigation and international arbitration. 

The report, which builds on statistics showing the productivity of the Commercial Court in London, claims that London remains the leading centre for international commercial litigation. At the same time, it said accompanying figures on arbitrator appointments drawn from the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) show the same success for international arbitration.

The report follows remarks by French president Emmanuel Macron at the IBA opening ceremony that asserted Paris’s status as a leading centre for business law.

The Law Society’s assertion is based on analysis that showed 172 written judgments were delivered by London’s commercial courts, which include the Business and Property Courts, between 2021-2022, compared to 101 in the Commercial Division of the New York State Courts and 26 in the Singapore International Commercial Court, which has also been briefing international media recently.

The LCIA data showed 423 appointments of arbitrators in 2022, compared to 340 in Singapore and 159 in Hong Kong. The survey, however, does not consider Federal claims in the Southern District of New York, which includes Wall Street, or other major commercial centres such as California or Illinois. At the same time, the ICC has yet to release its 2023 annual statistics. An October 2023 report on arbitration caseloads, as opposed to appointments, by Baker McKenzie noted that in 2022 the ICC had recorded its lowest figure of new case starts since 2012, with 710 cases, while the LCIA recorded the lowest figure in five years, with 293 new cases.

The report showed the value of the UK’s legal services sector continues to rise annually, with exports increasing by almost half a billion pounds to £6.65bn in 2021. UK-headquartered firm DLA Piper brought in the most revenue in 2021-2022, with turnover of £2.64bn, followed by Clifford Chance, which brought in £1.96bn.

Law Society president Nick Emmerson, who has prioritised international outreach, said: “The UK is currently the second largest market for legal services globally. It is recognised and respected the world over because of the stability and quality of our courts, our laws and legal professionals.  

“Our report shows that London’s commercial courts continue to thrive in an increasingly competitive global market. English law is the governing law of choice in international transactions and a vital asset to the UK’s economy.”

Michael Fletcher, London International Disputes Week (LIDW) co-chair and partner at Pinsent Masons, said: “The findings confirm London’s resilience and importance as a leading world centre for commercial law and international arbitration, despite an increasingly global market, and reinforce the strength of the dispute resolution platform that London provides to the global disputes community and its clients.”

He added: “Building on this, under the theme ‘uniting for global challenge and opportunity’, LIDW24 will welcome delegates from around the world to London next year to join a wide-ranging discussion on how to remain ahead in this evolving environment, as well as to learn from new and exciting jurisdictions.”

Mayer Brown’s Luiz Aboim, LIDW international arbitration day lead, said: “As multiple arbitration centres continue to develop worldwide, the Law Society’s report demonstrates how the LCIA continues to be the pre-eminent arbitral institution globally.   

"The principles and traditions of English law that underscore its status, as well as London’s need to remain an agile and adaptable jurisdiction, will be essential topics of debate on International Arbitration Day at LIDW24.’

While welcoming the news, Nick Vineall KC, chair of the Bar Council, noted the report came on the same day as an Institute for Government report showing the criminal courts were among the two worst-performing public services in the UK.

He said: “There is an urgent need for greater investment across our court system so the UK justice system’s reputation is not eroded or undermined. In the grand scheme of government expenditure, the amounts needed are trivial, but the consequences of the current underfunding are extremely serious.”

Vineall, who will host a reception at the IBA in Paris with fellow UK and Irish Bar leaders, added: “We must have a courts and justice system that is properly funded and functioning in order to sustain our legal markets and international reputation.”

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