The Dispute Resolution Review: Editor's Preface
The Dispute Resolution Review provides an indispensable overview of the civil court systems of 28 jurisdictions. It offers a guide to those who are faced with disputes that frequently cross international boundaries. As is often the way in law, difficult and complex problems can be solved in a number of ways, and this edition demonstrates that there are many different ways to organise and operate a legal system successfully, as well as overcoming challenges that life and politics throw up along the way. At the same time, common problems often submit to common solutions, and the curious practitioner is likely to discover that many of the solutions adopted abroad are not so different from those closer to home.
Looking back over 2020 from my study at home (this will provide a clue to the theme of this Preface), I cast my eye over words I wrote in last year's Preface:
All this leaves me writing this preface five days before 'Brexit Day', after an exhausting 2019 in which clients have not known whether to plan for the 'May deal', 'No deal', 'Boris's deal', a referendum (on Brexit and/or Scottish independence), no Brexit, or the extensive nationalisation of private industries and tax rises outlined in Labour's manifesto.
Not a word about a pandemic about to sweep across the globe.
If 2019 was the year of Brexit, this year was undoubtedly the year of covid-19; the year of lockdowns, tiers, furlough and, finally and thankfully, unprecedented mainstream media scrutiny of the safety and efficacy of various vaccines. Lives have tragically been lost and many more have suffered from covid-19-related illness. Restrictions on personal freedoms that would have been unthinkable this time last year have been imposed, relaxed and imposed again. In the UK, we have seen everything from virtual total lockdown to being encouraged to 'eat out to help out' as the government picked up half the bill to support the hospitality industry. Throughout this period of enormous change, the law, courts and tribunals have had to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances and, for the most part, have kept pace.
Perhaps the most noticeable change in the legal sector has been the move to online and home working, which has emphasised the need to have strong and reliable IT systems. We have seen disputes increase around force majeure and cancellation and termination clauses, and businesses have had more cause than usual to check their insurance arrangements. The latter development is best illustrated in the UK though the Financial Conduct Authority test case to determine the scope of cover afforded by business interruption insurance policies to businesses that were affected by covid-19 and a variety of government advice and restrictions, a case that saw your editor spend an uncomfortably hot British summer 'attending' court from home and promising he would never complain about being cramped in court again, so long as it had air conditioning. See Chapter 6 for further details of the case.
The question on many lawyers' lips is 'will we ever go back to life as it was before?' Some firms confidently predict the end of the working week and office environment (giving up their leases in the process); others talk of offices becoming the 'hub' with flexible working 'spokes'; and yet others urge a return to the status quo. Certainly courts and tribunals will have learned a lot during the pandemic, not least that electronic filing and short remote hearings can be efficient; but perhaps also that even the best video link cannot replace the special atmosphere that lends something intangible, but of great importance, to live, physically present advocacy and testimony. Perhaps one of the best lessons learned is that if you don't try something, you won't know which parts work and which parts don't.
A last word has to go to Brexit, as the UK and EU agreed a deal at the end of the year with only days to spare. This will have a lasting impact on the legal and political relationship, much of which is explored in more depth in the updated Brexit chapter.
This 13th edition follows the pattern of previous editions where leading practitioners in each jurisdiction set out an easily accessible guide to the key aspects of each jurisdiction's dispute resolution rules and practice, and developments over the past 12 months. The Dispute Resolution Review is also forward-looking, and the contributors offer their views on the likely future developments in each jurisdiction. Collectively, the chapters illustrate a continually evolving legal landscape responsive to both global and local developments.
As always, I would like to express my gratitude to all of the contributors from all of the jurisdictions represented in The Dispute Resolution Review. Their biographies can be found in Appendix 1 and highlight the wealth of experience and learning from which we are fortunate enough to benefit. I would also like to thank the whole team at Law Business Research who have excelled in managing a project of this size and scope, in getting it delivered on time and in adding a professional look and finish to the contributions.
Slaughter and May