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UK’s robust disputes framework holds firm amid the crisis

I have always very much enjoyed talking to the City’s disputes practitioners, and after two years away from covering my beat, I was curious to know what had changed. The answer: everything and nothing.

True, face-to-face meetings and the whistle-stop tours of London’s leading disputes practices have been replaced by Zoom and Teams. It seems that even the most momentous of disputes last year were fought and adjudicated by very intelligent people wearing very comfortable clothing; long may that continue.

However, it has been genuinely refreshing to learn that in the midst of 2020’s chaos, the British judiciary and court systems have exceeded expectations. There are no backlogs to speak of as judges, solicitors and barristers alike went above and beyond to resolve massive cases in record time by embracing technology and more flexible modes of working. While we are still very much at the beginning of Covid’s end, it seems that the disruption has permanently revolutionised the way disputes are resolved in this country for the better.

The UK has also now finally and officially left the European Union. The degree to which that has resulted in material change is a debate within itself (which shall be thrashed out later within these pages), but for the time being at least there are now more jurisdictional hoops to jump through when it comes to enforcing certain judgments. Otherwise, the consensus is very much ‘as you were’, with the sterling reputation of the English judiciary more than compensating for its absence from the EU. Its outstanding response to the pandemic, in comparison to the struggles of some its European neighbours, has not hurt its global image either.

What is the same? The unflappable optimism and confidence held by the City’s many personable disputes specialists. And it is hard to contend with – there is nothing to suggest that the old wisdom of disputes being countercyclical is unfounded in the context of the current crisis. And whether or not the Covid era produces a huge wave or a small stream of directly related disputes, the pipeline of work that will come to define the 2020s is set to be a healthy one.

An explosion is predicted in competition group claims and other class actions after a string of claimant-friendly results in the last year. Mixed with an abundance of funders with an abundance of cash, this has become the safe bet in terms of predictions.

In other, foggier predictions, there are whispers of a new trend of ‘climate change litigation’ to emerge in the near future. Encompassing a raft of matters including environmental shareholder action, public policy disputes and compensation claims against oil majors, firms are already touting their ESG disputes credentials to beat the crowd.

One thing will always be certain: the City disputes market is a joy to cover.

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