By Nicholas Clark
The Law Commission has recently announced a review of the Arbitration Act 1996, to both ensure that it remains “up to date in all respects” and that England and Wales remain preeminent ‘destinations’ for international dispute resolution. The review will launch in Q1 2022, with the aim of producing a consultation paper shortly before the end of the year. The Law Commission has stated that the Arbitration Act 1996 has helped ensure that London became a centre for international arbitration, with English law acting as a “gold standard”, but must be updated to ensure that it is as “clear, modern, and efficient as possible”.
There are a number of areas that have been flagged for reform. Submissions provided as part of consultation include such issues as the power to summarily dismiss claims or defences lacking merit, the court’s power in support of proceedings, and the availability of appeals. With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting normal practice, the adoption of virtual hearings and uptake in electronic document review and collection have significantly altered arbitral practice. The Law Commission has further flagged these technological developments as potential grounds for review.
A summary provided for the Law Commission’s pre-consultation review explicitly indicates that the UK must keep abreast of “more recent reforms” in other jurisdictions. Other arbitral centres, including Singapore and Hong Kong, have been flagged as competitors that could undermine the UK’s stature in the field of international arbitration. Singapore’s arbitration regime is supported by regular amendments to the Singapore International Arbitration Act, most recently in 2020. The 2020 Amendment to the Act includes the implementation of a default procedure for the appointment of arbitrators in multi-party arbitrations in a bid to increase certainty and the express recognition of the powers of a Singapore-based tribunal and the Singapore High Court to enforce confidentiality obligations.
The dynamism and responsiveness of Singapore’s arbitration regime give Singapore a substantial competitive edge as a destination for arbitration, and despite the stature of English law, it is clear that the Singaporean arbitration regime will provide a useful model and comparative for the Law Commission as it undergoes its review.