Lord Neuberger Urges Caution with Changes in London Disputes Market, Emphasizes Minor Key Adjustments
During his keynote address at the London International Disputes Week conference, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, former president of the UK Supreme Court, adopted the role of an arbitrator rather than a former judge, using a musical metaphor to captivate the audience.
Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury set the tempo by focusing on the rapid pace of technological advancements. He delved into topics like the implementation of electronic keys, the significance of quantum computing, and the utilisation of artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as ChatGPT.
Drawing a parallel to the insights highlighted in Opus2's recent thought leadership report, as disclosed by GLP, Lord Neuberger emphasised the significance of two major technological challenges on the horizon. He identified quantum computing as one of these challenges and highlighted its impact on various fronts.
Additionally, Lord Neuberger noted that the other prominent technological challenge, already manifesting itself in the field of dispute resolution, was artificial intelligence (AI).
“We are near a time when much of the administrative work in litigation or arbitration will be done by AI,” foreseeing a time in arbitration when “AI will carry out the functions of tribunal secretaries,” Neuberger said,
Although machine decisions may offer advantages in terms of speed, cost-effectiveness, and consistency compared to human decisions, Lord Neuberger cautioned that there would be challenges associated with their implementation. He highlighted concerns such as unconscious bias, a potential lack of transparency, and the need to ensure public acceptability.
Similar to Sir Geoffrey Vos, his successor as Master of the Rolls, who emphasised practical aspects of technological advancements in his recent McNair Lecture, Lord Neuberger also underlined the importance of focusing on the practical implications of technological developments in the UK. However, Lord Neuberger acknowledged that there are certain limitations to be considered in this pursuit.
“Never let fascination with IT and the desire to be in the technological vanguard obscure the much greater importance of actual and perceived expertise and efficiency in legal advice and dispute resolution,” Lord Neuberger added.
Acknowledging London's exceptional judicial, arbitral, and institutional infrastructure, Lord Neuberger seized the moment to emphasise the remarkable virtues of the city. He highlighted London's unrivaled allure as a premier destination for litigation, arbitration, and mediation, underscoring its unparalleled reputation in these domains.
Lord Neuberger's stance on downplaying the impact of Brexit on London as the centre of a dispute, as highlighted in the recent Portland Communications report, aligns with his previous speeches during his tenure as a judge on the UK Supreme Court. This consistent approach underscores his perspective on the matter.
Lord Neuberger acknowledged that London, having lost its apparent role as a legal service point of access to the EU, still possesses a compensating appeal as a relatively neutral location. However, it is important to note that Brexit did not evade criticism, and its implications were not overlooked by Lord Neuberger.
Lord Neuberger observed that the introduction of certain legislative proposals, such as the Internal Markets Bill, Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, and the more recent Bill of Rights Bill, which involved breaches of international law obligations, would not contribute positively to the country's reputation for upholding the rule of law.
He further commented that these proposals were seemingly thwarted by good sense and respect for the rule of law, preventing their implementation.
Nonetheless, Lord Neuberger expressed support for a prospective series of reforms concerning the Arbitration Act. He highlighted the need to evaluate and potentially update certain aspects of the Act after its 25-year tenure.
“London's dispute resolution service benefits this country reputationally; it also makes a very significant economic contribution,” Lord Neuberger added, echoing comments made by Ministry of Justice minister Mike Freer MP on Monday.
Although currently serving as an arbitrator, Lord Neuberger could not resist commenting on litigation. He noted that arbitration has traditionally been perceived as a faster, more cost-effective, and less formal alternative to litigation.
He, however, cautioned that arbitration no longer holds the exclusive advantage in terms of speed and affordability, as judges in the Commercial Court are now inclined to control costs effectively.
In addition, Lord Neuberger proposed that arbitration could benefit from adopting practices observed in adjudication and handling minor claims. He recommended that smaller and medium-sized cases should explore the possibility of utilizing more expedited and cost-efficient procedures as a viable option.
Nevertheless, Lord Neuberger advocated for a cautious approach to making changes, suggesting that alterations should be undertaken prudently, adhering to the principle of "if it ain't broke, don't mend it." In essence, he emphasised the need for careful consideration before implementing modifications.