• College of Law hosts seminar on London, China and dispute resolution

  • 4 July 2012

  • The College of Law recently hosted a seminar at its London Moorgate centre, which was organised by the China Britain Law Institute (CBLI) and discussed London and dispute resolution in a Chinese context.

    The seminar, which was chaired by College of Law Chief Executive Professor Nigel Savage, examined some of the distinctive legal, cultural and perception issues which apply to Chinese parties looking to resolve their disputes abroad.

    Legal services, by some estimates, contribute as much as £23 Billion to the UK economy and London is a popular choice of seat for the resolution of international disputes. According to the UK Ministry of Justice, half of all international arbitrations worldwide take place with a London seat.

    Chinese parties have a reputation for avoiding formal dispute resolution. However, for Matthew Townsend, a Beijing-based arbitration specialist at Fulbright and Jaworski, and the co-founder of the CBLI, “Chinese parties are increasingly willing to resolve their disputes by formal legal means, including arbitration with a foreign seat.” Josh Wang, a partner at DLA Piper noted that his firm’s Chinese clients “are increasingly looking to commercial arbitration to safeguard their interest in the UK and are actively building in arbitration clauses into their investment contracts."

    Adrian Hughes QC, a barrister at 39 Essex Street, and an arbitrator on the panel of China’s CIETAC, noted that, for Chinese parties looking to resolve their disputes in England, “the market is already well established in shipping, commodities and insurance cases but parties are increasingly bringing their disputes to London in a wider range of business.” For Sun Wei, a partner in the Beijing office of Zhong Lun law firm, as Chinese business evolves and gives rise to a greater number of complex disputes, there will be more work for foreign lawyers, although some perception and cultural issues remain.

    However, London does face several challenges as a dispute resolution centre, including the rise of Asia’s emerging dispute resolution centres according to Matthew Townsend of the CBLI. He said: “Hong Kong and Singapore have emerged as popular arbitral seats, with the rules of their arbitration institutions increasingly adopted in China-related international contracts.”

    Another hurdle discussed at the seminar relates to perception. Chinese parties may be unclear on the processes involved in formal dispute resolution in the UK or else wrongly believe that a foreign party will enjoy “home court advantage”. The UK legal profession is working hard to address these issues through initiatives such as the Unlocking Disputes campaign, the Ministry of Justice’s Plan for Growth and the work of the CBLI and others.

    For Lord Clement Jones, Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary China Group, who gave the closing remarks, “Britain’s competitive advantage reflects many things: our open market, the unrivalled quality of the UK legal profession, our record of judicial independence and the plain good sense of English common law, amongst others.” This is an advantage that various bodies in the UK are working hard to consolidate with initiatives such as the opening last year of state-of-the-art dispute resolution facilities in the Rolls building, which is the largest dedicated business, property and commercial court in the world.

    Whether or not the UK can still boast that it is a great manufacturing centre, Lord Clement Jones concluded that: “the UK can perform the role of dispute resolution for the world and it is increasingly doing so.”

    The full speaker order was as follows:

    • London's development as a seat for China-related dispute resolution (Adrian Hughes QC, 39 Essex Street);
    • Chinese investment in the UK and the role of dispute resolution (Josh Wong, DLA Piper);
    • Asia's emerging dispute resolution centres (Matthew Townsend, Fulbright & Jaworski); 
    • Chinese parties’ impact on global dispute resolution (Sun Wei, Zhong Lun); 
    • Keynote speech (Lord Clement-Jones, Vice-Chair of the UK All Party Parliamentary China Group.
    • Chair: Professor Nigel Savage (The College of Law).

    Further information can be found at http://www.cbli.org/events/uk-event-london-and-china-related-disputes/