The government should ‘nurture’ English law and promote it abroad in the same way as it does with ‘other business sectors and industries that are seen as key to the future prosperity of the nation’, the lord chief justice has said.

Lord Burnett said the UK ‘is not deriving the economic benefits from English law that could be achieved for want of a coherent strategy’. He called on the government to work with regulators and organisations such as LawTech and Legal UK, as well as the Law Commission, ‘to ensure that our law is well-placed to embrace future changes in business practice’.

English law is a ‘real asset’ to the UK’s economy, which has ‘quietly provided the backbone to our economy for many years’, Burnett said in a speech in Oxford on Friday, and it ‘underpins a disproportionate quantity of the world’s contracts and financial transactions’.

Dominic Raab and Lord Burnett of Maldon

Lord Burnett: UK ‘is not deriving economic benefits from English law that could be achieved for want of a coherent strategy’

Source: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock

The use of English law across the world in commercial transactions and disputes ‘lends the United Kingdom considerable soft power in its commercial and diplomatic relations with other countries and is well placed to set the global standard in new areas of commercial activity’, he said.

However, Burnett warned that English law has been ‘taken for granted’, adding that ‘like all important assets it needs investment to sustain it’.

He said there was a ‘risk’ to the UK’s economy if commercial transactions were not based on English law, pointing to growing competition from alternative international dispute resolution centres such as Dubai, Qatar and Singapore.

‘Our courts … must continue to be seen as beacons of excellence the world over,’ Burnett said. ‘They must be properly funded in a way that leaves behind the notion that they are no more than an ordinary public service.’

He said initiatives such as LawTechUK are ‘working to keep the United Kingdom in the vanguard of legal change to keep pace with technological developments in business’, in particular through its recent work on crypto assets and smart contracts. ‘But the promotion of legal business is different from the promotion of English law,’ Burnett added.

‘For three centuries we have reaped the benefits of a commitment to the rule of law and the strengths of English law. Both remain as essential and valuable as ever, but their value is not widely appreciated.’