London has long been a city associated with international arbitration. In 2015, even with the UK referendum on EU membership looming, according to analysis by theCity UK, London was the seat or centre of 4,738 international commercial arbitrations, mediations and adjudications in 2015. These were conducted under the auspices of numerous institutions, with the long-established LCIA governing only a relatively small percentage. In the year preceding the referendum, according to the Queen Mary University of London International Arbitration survey, 47% of participants included London amongst their top three choices of seat (Paris was the next most popular with 38%, followed by Hong Kong with 30%). Many different factors attract international parties to London as a seat of arbitration, including the legislative framework, the supportive powers of the English courts and the pro-arbitration attitude with which they are exercised, the common use of English contract law in commercial transactions (from which the choice of a London seat often follows), the infrastructure of London and the availability of legal, expert and other services to support arbitration.
The referendum outcome has inevitably led to reflection on the commercial, legal and practical effects in so many areas, arbitration included. Whilst the relationship between the UK and the EU is yet to be re-defined, it is timely to consider the ways in which Brexit may have an impact on arbitration in London, whether negative, or indeed positive.
In general terms, Brexit should not have a substantive impact. Arbitration is excluded from EU legislation regarding jurisdiction and enforcement, and a tribunal seated in London is not obliged to follow EU rules regarding choice of governing law. The UK and all other EU Member States are party to the New York Convention, and their obligations under the Convention are entirely independent of EU membership. As such, following Brexit, an agreement to arbitrate in London and a resulting award will continue to be enforceable across the EU. Likewise, an agreement to arbitrate anywhere in the EU (and indeed, in any state which is a contracting party to the New York Convention) and a resulting award will still be enforceable in the UK. And the stability, certainty and predictability of common-law made English contract law will remain unaffected, and as an excellent choice to govern contractual relationships.
But there are of course many issues to consider at a more micro level. This post focuses on an issue which has been the subject of much discussion in the last few years: the significance of the availability of anti-suit relief to halt proceedings in breach of an arbitration agreement in an EU Member State court. It also considers, among other things, whether Brexit could affect the pool of specialist arbitration practitioners which represents one of the many strengths of London as a seat of arbitration.