The current COVID pandemic has raised a number of challenges for dispute resolution where English law is the governing jurisdiction.
Previous articles have discussed how the English and Welsh courts in particular have sought to rise to the challenges that this has brought. Here, we look at what the longer term impact might be on the operation of the English legal system as a result of these experiences and the lessons learned from them.
Mark Lloyd, partner in the Kennedys Marine team (Chairman of the Admiralty Solicitors Group and non-executive Director of Maritime London) recently participated in a webinar hosted jointly by Maritime London and Quadrant Chambers to discuss these issues. Mark was joined on the panel by Mr Jos Standerwick the CEO of Maritime London, Mr Robert Thomas QC of Quadrant Chambers, Mr Ian Gaunt the President of the LMAA.
The courts’ response to the COVID-19 challenges
The webinar firstly considered the immediate response of the courts, and the guidance given on remote hearings, the approach to ongoing disputes and the cooperative approach expected from parties (with a clear message that no opportunism should be utilised during the current pandemic). Ian Gaunt then addressed the position of the LMAA, the approach being taken by the LMAA/arbitrators (in light of the Seoul protocol on video conferencing) and the set up and role of the LMAA working group on remote hearings.
The ‘new normal’?
Mark then considered what the ‘new normal’ for marine dispute resolution might look like from a technological, logistical and practical angle.
- While there have been some difficulties in retrieving paper documents following the ‘lockdown’, when access to offices is allowed, this will no longer be an issue.
- The technology for remote hearings, arbitrations and mediations will improve rapidly as a result of the current situation, which will make the experience even more user friendly.
- Home offices will be better set up for extended remote working.
- Security practice and procedures for home working and remote hearings will have to be reviewed.
- Document management will change. It will no longer be necessary to provide each party with multiple bundles of paper documents.
- Policies will have to be reviewed to consider how they provide for dispute resolution.
- Cost estimates will have to be revised – there will be a reduction in travel but an increase in preparation for and attendance at remote hearings.
Whilst the COVID pandemic continues, the likely new normal is still in a state of flux. What is however clear is that the English courts, arbitrators and practitioners are supportive of the use of technology to assist parties and to resolve disputes and this will inevitably lead to a new way forward.
The overriding message from the webinar was that the English legal system has responded promptly and in a very positive manner to ensure that the UK’s leading position as a centre for dispute resolution for global maritime disputes remains. The support for remote hearings, the use of document management and technological innovation for dispute resolution system is world leading in this respect and the support of the courts, arbitrators and users has been key to ensuring this happens.