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London International Disputes Week - Reflections on the future of international dispute resolution in a fast-changing world

International Disputes Digest - 2019

Sep 2019

The inaugural London International Disputes Week took place from 7 – 10 May 2019 in London. CMS is a founder Member of the initiative and participated actively in a number of the events which took place, including hosting a seminar on  Technology and dispute resolution-innovation, disruption, evolution” featuring partner Luke Pardey. It was a busy week for the CMS London office, with CMS partners Guy Pendell and Adrian Bell presenting papers at the Commercial Litigation and Construction sessions respectively, and Richard Bamforth delivering welcome remarks at the opening cocktail reception and the week’s flagship conference.

The concept of London International Disputes Week originated not from the UK government or from any institutional body with an interest in dispute resolution, but from a group of leading law firms, barristers’ chambers, experts, academics, legal commentators and dispute resolution organisations. The aim was two-fold. First, to celebrate the heritage of London as a venue where international businesses and their counsel gather to resolve their disputes – whether through the courts or by arbitration, mediation, expert determination or negotiation. Second, to reflect on and discuss the future of dispute resolution internationally – where and how disputes will arise, and how businesses and their counsel should adapt to the changing landscape and the future of dispute resolution globally.

London International Disputes Week was attended by lawyers and businesspeople from 47 jurisdictions across the world, as well as London based-lawyers. Discussions addressed challenges including today’s rapid technological developments and how existing processes deal with the vast volume of data that businesses generate. Clients are also demanding, rightly, increased speed and efficiency. How do we harness technology to meet those demands? In the UK we are also facing the continuing uncertainty of the impact of Brexit. How does that affect dispute resolution in the UK, in Europe and globally (if at all)? We are also seeing an increasing number of jurisdictions looking at raising their profile in order to attract dispute resolution business, whether through the establishment of international commercial courts or new international arbitration institutions or centres.

These were just some of the issues and challenges that were hotly debated across the week – in technical sessions hosted at 20 different law firm venues across the City of London, in a one-day keynote conference held at the National Gallery, and in numerous fringe events. Participants were positive about the week-long initiative, and it is hoped that this or similar events will become a regular feature in the diaries of disputes lawyers from all around the world. Some 230 panellists
– including 16 current and former English judges and 20 client representatives – presented papers and contributed to wide-ranging and varied debate about London’s role as a dispute resolution centre both historically and into the future.

One highlight was a speech by the Lord Chancellor, the Rt Hon David Gauke MP, in which he reflected on the importance of the rule of law for business and the strengths of English law as perceived and understood in the world. He urged a collaborative approach in ensuring that cross-border partnerships continue to thrive, and that London remains a global hub of legal expertise, demonstrating UK government support for dispute resolution in London whilst recognising the global challenges that we face. The Lord Chief Justice’s IT adviser, Professor Richard Susskind, also provided us with a wake-up call over the rapid pace of technological growth and made us wonder when – not if – we will all be replaced by machines who provide a reliable, consistent, cheap and incorruptible system of global dispute resolution.

A number of sessions noted that a key feature of London’s historic success has not only been the export of English law and English trained lawyers to practise across the world, but London’s role in educating lawyers from all over the world and attracting international lawyers to practise in London. In his closing remarks at a spectacular closing dinner, Michael McIlwrath, head of litigation at GE, noted that he had been in London for a week in relation to three arbitrations, none of which
had any connection with London apart from the fact that the lawyers and supporting infrastructure were located here. There was a note of caution, however. While, perhaps surprisingly, participants seemed to be less concerned about the threat of Brexit than might have been expected, concerns over a loss of business confidence and potentially increased difficulty in accessing the UK market were raised as matters that need to be monitored.

Overall, attendees at the week’s events were struck by a tremendous sense of co-operation and camaraderie among the practitioners and those involved in global dispute resolution. Participants acknowledge that the business world is changing fast and that clients need the dispute resolution mechanisms – and lawyers – to match those changes. Efficiency, certainty, fairness and cost-effectiveness were watchwords in almost all the sessions, as delegates and participants (many of whom are competitors) debated and sought to find some answers to these challenges.

London International Disputes Week was stimulating, challenging, inspiring, exhausting and rewarding – often all at the same time – certainly for those involved in its organisation and, hopefully, for participants too. All involved should now work to ensure that its legacy as a forum for thought leadership and debate in international dispute resolution continues into the future.

International Disputes Digest - July 2019
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Portrait of Richard Bamforth
Richard Bamforth