What should a British legal export look like – Parma ham or Irish stout? Let’s consider in that off-beat fashion the conundrum faced by anyone seeking to maintain and improve London’s pre-eminent status as a seat for arbitration.
London is the runaway leader in a competitive international arbitrations ‘market’. By some measures the capital is three times more popular with parties than its nearest rival Geneva, itself far ahead of shiny upstart centres in Dubai, Russia, Singapore and Shanghai that have been able to design facilities and rules from scratch.
But just what are we exporting? If an arbitration opts to use procedures that mimic our own Civil Procedure Rules in a common law process that sees five QCs from the same chambers – maybe with the arbitrator also from the same set – then we are selling Parma ham. Such an arbitration’s provenance and uniformity are strictly controlled and valued for a sense of place.
A famous brand of Irish stout takes a different approach – tasting different when made abroad for its large Nigerian market.
Of course, both approaches can thrive. To secure London’s pre-eminence, though, English arbitrators and arbitration counsel are surely right to closely watch the parties for signs of dissatisfaction or discomfort. Where London’s approach is not sufficiently international for its global clientele, it could be surprisingly vulnerable to upstart rivals.