The legal services industry is an important part of the UK economy. England and Wales in particular is the jurisdiction and law of choice for many international business agreements. Recently, however, Brexit has presented an opportunity for countries that are attempting to lure lucrative legal custom away from England and Wales and into their own courtrooms.
France has recently unveiled its English language, common law commercial court in an attempt to entice international court users, such as U.S. companies, away from London.
Paris is seeking to capitalise on its EU membership as the UK prepares to leave. Paris boasts that, whilst the ease with which future UK judgments can be enforced across the EU remains uncertain, the judgments of its courts will be guaranteed recognition. It has also undercut London in terms of cost: whereas claims issued in the High Court in London worth £200,000 or more attract a £10,000 court fee, Paris has a maximum fee of €100 whatever the value of the claim. “The rest”, explained the French minister of justice, “is taken care of by the state”.
France isn’t the only country gunning for London’s global litigation crown. The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium have also established English language courts.
But London hasn’t stayed silent. The Courts and Tribunals Judiciary has produced a brochure titled “English Law, UK Courts and UK Legal Services after Brexit – the View beyond 2019”. The 12 page document explains why English law remains the gold standard and London is, and will remain, the place to resolve disputes. According to the brochure, one of the reasons for choosing London is its modern litigation facilities: “The Business and Property Courts of England and Wales are housed in the Rolls Building, a state-of-the-art centre for international dispute resolution in the heart of legal London. It is the biggest dedicated business court in the world, and around four times bigger than its nearest competitor. It includes three ‘super courts’ to handle the heaviest international and national high value disputes.”
The modern physical infrastructure of the Rolls Building has been matched by a modernisation of the Business and Property Court’s filing system. For certain claims it is now compulsory for lawyers to file documents and correspondence with the court electronically. Filing is secure and instantaneous, saving time (and costs) for court users.
Sir Geoffrey Vos, the Chancellor of the High Court, has recently outlined his vision for the future of business disputes. With the adoption of blockchain (the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies) based contracts, in relation to which oral evidence and cross examination may be unnecessary, Sir Vos thinks that the traditional “trial” could in many instances be rendered obsolete. If evidence was needed, it could be given in writing or via video conference. This would save the costs associated with teams of lawyers attending trial over a number of days. Whilst Paris seeks to simply replicate that which is already available in London, if the English Courts can lead in terms of innovation and system-wide costs cutting the legal industry here will stay ahead of the field.
The Courts and Tribunals Judiciary brochure ends with the following: “The English Courts are universally recognised to be a forum where litigants can be confident that their disputes will be determined fairly on their intrinsic merits. That will not change following Brexit.” The legal industry will be hoping that the number of litigants choosing London will not change for the worse after Brexit, either.