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London International Dispute Week – May 2021

“English law is the ‘lex franca’ of the maritime world’: London is the natural place for dispute resolution of disputes under English law contracts”.

This was the clear message of a special webinar entitled ‘Maritime Arbitration in London – Present and Future Challenges’, hosted by law firm HFW, which attracted an audience of over 300 listeners from 43 countries at this year’s London International Disputes Week (LIDW21) on 14 May.

LMAA Past President Ian Gaunt began the presentations by pointing out that the LMAA had reacted quickly to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 by drawing up new guidelines for virtual and semi-virtual hearings, in order to “allow business to move on and maintain the reputation of London as the leading dispute resolution centre”. Drawn up in May 2020, the new protocol for remote hearings forms one of the most important changes in LMAA’s revised Terms and Procedures (LMAA Terms 2021) that entered into force as of May 1 2021. The move to virtual or semi-virtual hearings represents what Ian described as “arguably the biggest change to have faced maritime arbitration in decades”.

Virtual hearings bring benefits in terms of cost, convenience and the “greenness” of reduced carbon footprint, he said, and have proved remarkably efficient thanks to the rapid development of remote technologies during the pandemic.

Even when current restrictions are lifted, semi-virtual hearings are likely to continue, Ian suggested, since “flying witnesses half-way across the world to give 15 minutes’ evidence” no longer makes sense. However, it is also noticeable that there has been a slight reduction in the number of cases decided after hearings. Some 80% of the 500-odd arbitration awards issued each year by LMAA members are already decided on the basis of “documents only”, he added.

Other presentations were given by Karen Maxwell, barrister and co-author of London Maritime Arbitration, Nick Austin Partner of Reed Smith and Jean Koh Partner of HFW. A key message of all the presentations was that London remains the capital of maritime dispute resolution in a changing world and that above all London, with its right of appeal on points of law and experienced arbitrators and Commercial Court judges, is the best place to arbitrate or litigate disputes under English law contracts.

A recording of the webinar is available HERE.