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Arbitration in the UK continues to be a key means of resolving commercial disputes in the country's legal services market. Parties often prefer having their disputes heard in England, since English arbitrators and judges are independent and experienced in resolving international disputes. All procedural aspects of arbitration in England are regulated by the Arbitration Act 1996. Common law is applied when interpreting specific provisions and orders.

International arbitration in England offers many advantages, including confidentiality, control over the process, and neutrality, especially when the alternative is court litigation. In this article, we will explore what arbitration in England entails, delve into the intricacies of arbitration, and discuss the assistance a lawyer can provide. 

The convenience and cost of English arbitration 

English arbitration avoids the steep expenses of certain international proceedings. Disagreements find fair and affordable resolution, with reasonable fees reimbursed to the prevailing party. Insurance can even cover costs, delivering an almost gratuitous process. Naturally, claimants advance payments like the £300 arbitrator nomination fee. 

Another advantage within English arbitration is the option to terminate by agreement anytime before a binding award, reducing durations and costs. 

Albeit seemingly complexly codified, English law offers simpler comprehension to practitioners than continental systems featuring deceptive simplicity like Ukrainian law. Granular provisions enable enhanced clarity regarding expected international trade and maritime behaviour. Though continental legal systems’ superficial processes appear more straightforward than English common law sources, this proves illusory. Continental laws’ broader framing foments uncertainty. Thus, while externally less straightforward, English law achieves superior specificity supporting commercial parties.

Resolving disputes in the UK: the benefits of arbitration over court litigation

Arbitration is the out-of-court resolution of disputes between two parties, the outcome of which is decided by an impartial third party (the arbitrator). A key difference from court litigation is the voluntary nature of arbitration — both parties must agree to refer the dispute to arbitration.

Commercial arbitration in England offers several advantages that make it an attractive option for resolving disputes:

  • Impartiality. Arbitrators are independent parties, enabling a more objective review of the case compared to national court systems. 
  • Adaptability and privacy. The arbitration process can be more adaptable to parties' specific needs and provide greater confidentiality versus litigation.
  • Operativeness. Arbitration procedures generally conclude faster than court proceedings, an important consideration in business. 
  • Enforceability. Arbitration awards are frequently easier to enforce across jurisdictions under the 1958 New York Convention.

Why is England the global hub of international arbitration?

England has a long history of developing a legal framework profoundly impacting international affairs and dispute resolution. England contains the world's second-largest legal services market. 

Conducting international arbitration in England, especially London, appeals to individuals and enterprises since English law is traditionally revered for its lucidity and consistency, promoting transparency in dispute settlement. Recent surveys reveal London remains the preferred arbitration site for 76% of respondents.

English law is deployed globally by clients seeking a neutral legal system to govern international trade agreements. It is considered a gold standard in numerous areas like shipping, insurance, and financial services. 

London consistently tops Queen Mary University's International Arbitration Research rankings. Numerous eminent arbitration bodies reside in London, like the LCIA and ICSID. These institutions provide parties with flexible, independent mechanisms for resolving international commercial differences. One especially valuable principle is freedom of contract — parties frequently opt for arbitration in England due to the confidentiality benefits it confers.

Another key upside when selecting arbitration in London is the wealth of expertise among lawyers and arbitration panels in diverse spheres like maritime disputes, engineering, finance, transport, and intellectual property. 

Although international arbitration in the UK occurs under the Arbitration Act 1996, arbitration bodies can implement their procedures. For instance, the London Maritime Arbitrators Association offers a spectrum of arbitration mechanisms, signalling that parties have not only a range of specialised arbitrators, but also various mechanisms tailored to specific needs.

Governing law in UK arbitration 

Arbitration agreements are typically embedded in commercial contracts, stipulating that prospective disputes will be resolved via arbitration instead of litigation. However, they may also constitute separate documents incorporated by reference. Courts interpret arbitration agreements broadly, encompassing both non-contractual and contractual differences. Within these pacts, parties can often pre-designate the governing law for dispute resolution in England. This may be delineated in the agreement text. However, if the applicable law is unspecified, the arbitral tribunal can invoke conflict of law principles to determine which legal system to deploy for a given case. Such principles may account for factors including contract formation location and performance location, among others.

During arbitration case settlement in England, arbitrator appointment abides by Arbitration Act provisions. Notably, an arbitrator can be challenged and replaced. The quantity of arbitrators and selection of tribunal align with the arbitration pact between parties. Absent an agreement, a sole arbitrator will adjudicate. 

English courts adopt a pro-arbitration stance, upholding the contractual recourse to arbitration over litigation. This underscores the principle of party autonomy in arbitration law, widely acknowledged as vital in international arbitration, and upholds confidentiality and efficiency in resolving commercial disagreements. 

Multi-party arbitration agreements are enforceable under English law, with the Arbitration Act 1996 expressly delineating situations involving over two arbitration pact participants.

Arbitration procedure in the UK

In the UK, arbitration proceedings can commence via written notification to the counterparty or, if applicable, the competent authority. This method will typically be delineated in the arbitration agreement, unless alternate procedures are mutually adopted. Under prevailing laws like the Arbitration Act 1996, notice formalities apply when a third party appoints the arbitrator(s). 

In practice, arbitration notice in England transpires after one party furnishes the other with a written claim encapsulating the crux of the dispute and relief sought. Should disagreement persist, the respondent can then issue notice to activate arbitration in the UK.

Regarding jurisdiction, parties can contest jurisdiction throughout the proceedings. If a respondent abstains without reasonable justification, the tribunal may proceed sans participation or submission from said party, adjudicating based on available evidence.  

The Tribunal cannot compel third-party hearing attendance. However, if the arbitration unfolds in England and involved witnesses reside in-country, the court can enforce attendance. The ensuing award binds arbitration participants. Depending on the agreement terms, the award may also bind other parties like guarantors.

Arbitration disputes carry the same statute of limitations as legal proceedings – six years from the date the cause of action accrues for contractual and tort claims. 

Several avenues uphold confidentiality when settling international arbitration cases in England:

  • Arbitration Agreement Clause – Parties can embed explicit confidentiality provisions in the agreement text or an ancillary protocol dictating that arbitration-related information must remain private.
  • English Common Law – Even absent expressed confidentiality requirements, English common law may confer certain protections. For instance, lawyers and arbitrators must uphold case information confidentiality under prevailing professional rules. 
  • Conditional Disclosure – Arbitration-obtained information can see disclosure in subsequent proceedings if consent is furnished.

Appointing arbitrators 

Under the Arbitration Act, an arbitral tribunal typically comprises a sole arbitrator, unless parties to the dispute request otherwise or a three-member panel is warranted for the particular case. The parties must jointly appoint a sole arbitrator within 28 days. For a trio, each side must designate an arbitrator within 14 days, and the two appointees select a third as tribunal chairman.  

If the multi-party agreement or chosen arbitration rules do not stipulate appointment procedures, the Arbitration Act 1996 enables disputants to petition the court to appoint arbitrator(s) instead.

Grounds exist for challenging an arbitrator's appointment:

  • Perceived partiality towards certain parties
  • Lacking requisite qualifications
  • Refusing or failing to properly conduct proceedings

While the court evaluates a removal application, the arbitrator can be heard and continue proceedings. If the court sanctions removal, it may determine owed arbitrator fees or order reimbursement of sums already received.  

Under the Act, the court cannot remove an arbitrator if England-seated proceedings deploy institutional rules, unless confirming that internal recourse options have been exhausted first. Moreover, the arbitrator can be replaced if the court eliminates the arbitrator based on evidence submitted by parties working to resolve a business dispute.

Regarding immunity, section 29(1) of the Act generally grants arbitrators civil liability immunity, except in cases of omissions when performing their role in England-based arbitration. However, per section 29(3), immunity does not apply to liability arising due to an arbitrator's resignation from the tribunal.

Arbitration Agreements under English law

International trade contracts predominantly mandate arbitration for dispute resolution, proving far more expedient than litigation. Arbitration confers undeniable advantages, including electronic document submission and remote participation. 

However, arbitration remains a voluntary process. An arbitration body can only consider a contractual dispute if the parties concluded an arbitration agreement conferring jurisdiction. For instance, standard GAFTA or FOSFA templates already embed arbitration clauses stipulating resolution by pertinent arbitration institutions. Parties also frequently negotiate bespoke arbitration provisions, appointing a specific court, governing law and procedures. Yet chosen tribunals may lack sufficient expertise over particular legal issues or laws, potentially risking ineffective dispute resolution.  

Problems emerge where contracts omit arbitration clauses without referencing documents containing relevant pacts. Finding an appropriate arbitration or judicial authority with requisite jurisdiction to adjudicate disputes under such contracts can prove challenging. 

Essentially, arbitration pacts constitute the cornerstone of arbitration proceedings, dictating the designated court, procedures and governing law, alongside interpreting the clause's own validity. Nevertheless, when negotiating deals, arbitration clauses may receive inadequate attention compared to commercial terms, based on the presumption of counterparty good faith performance. This optimistic assumption often proves unfounded, necessitating dispute resolution procedures. 

English law clearly differentiates arbitration clauses embedded in contracts from the overriding agreements. Thus, per the Act, an arbitration clause remains operative even if the contract is deemed invalid or unenforceable.

When disputing contract validity, parties often incorrectly assume that the invalidity of the principal agreement inherently negates the arbitration pact, preventing arbitration of said validity issues. For instance, parties may explicitly agree to apply a specific GAFTA or FOSFA template during transactions. One party later alleges that, despite lacking signatures, a binding contract arose under English law based on agreement upon essential terms and seeks performance, reserving the right to commence arbitration. The counterparty insists no contract formed due to absence of signatures, conclusively negating arbitration jurisdiction.  

Here, English law would likely uphold the arbitration pact, granting jurisdiction to determine contractual validity and party liability regardless of whether a binding contract emerged.

When contracting, parties must not downplay the pivotal significance of arbitration agreements. Drafting provides complexities which may prove decisive in determining dispute resolution outcomes and avenues for legal recourse available to participants.


When commercial disagreements emerge, securing expert legal counsel proves critical. Specialist lawyers offer holistic services to resolve intricate business differences.

Should you need guidance on international arbitration law or support in settling disputes in England, the IQ Decision UK team stands ready to address all queries. We provide comprehensive arbitration advice alongside end-to-end assistance for extrajudicial dispute resolution in the UK. 

Our capabilities span:

  • Evaluating the merits of potential cases
  • Advising on optimal resolution avenues 
  • Drafting arbitration clauses and agreements
  • Representing clients in arbitral proceedings
  • Navigating recognition and enforcement 

With intricate knowledge of arbitration legislation alongside extensive practical expertise, we craft bespoke strategies aligned to the specific circumstances of each case. 

If confronting a complex business conflict, contact our experts to discuss how specialised arbitration-focused advice can place you in the strongest position to achieve a favourable to efficient outcome while avoiding the uncertainties of courtroom litigation. We take the time to understand your objectives, priorities, and constraints before tailoring our full suite of arbitration services accordingly.