New business court will cement City’s global reputation

A strong independent judiciary is one of the unsung assets of the City of London. The law, its processes and all the people who work in it play a vital role in the City’s economy. The UK’s lead in financial services would not exist without the foundation of a pragmatic commercial law that is envied (and imitated) around the world.

The long-running debate on the modernisation of the Commercial Court and on the provision of facilities, which would both match its reputation and enable it to continue to compete internationally, recognised the central issue of providing a world-class facility to house a world-class judiciary.

Last month’s announcement that Her Majesty’s Courts Service (HMCS) is working with Delancey and Invista to develop a state-of-the-art Business Court complex on a 260,000sq ft site in Fetter Lane fell on a busy news day. It did not inspire the headlines it so justly merited.

The existing facilities at St Dunstan’s House are inadequate and offer ageing technologies. Mansion House, along with other bodies working in financial services, recognises that the City’s position – and the continuing jobs and prosperity that it provides – are only underwritten by tomorrow’s success. And it is in seeking to preserve that future success that HMCS’s plans are to be welcomed.

In an increasingly competitive market for the provision of dispute resolution services, the announcement that London is to be home to the largest dedicated business court in the world is headline-grabbing news for those such as myself, who are committed to maintaining our position as a centre of excellence.

Today the world’s biggest and best commercial law firms are found inside the Square Mile or very close by.

Historically the law has always been associated with the success of the City. The Royal Courts of Justice sit on the City’s border, many chambers sit within and the Old Bailey is not only inside the Square Mile, but is co-funded by the City of London Corporation and is the formal residence of the City of London Sheriff.

Around the world, English courts, together with English law, are acknowledged as one of the foremost choices of jurisdiction for international contracts. This is a choice driven by the high quality of the legal services available in the UK, the freedom afforded by common law for parties to agree the terms of the contract and by speedy dispute resolution with its range of options. Decisions regarding the financing of major international infrastructure projects often centre on discussions taking place in law offices in the City, law offices with global overseas earnings of more than £1.6bn a year. And across the globe, countries that recognise the opportunities of developing multijurisdictional practices to support their exporters and importers – such as Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and mainland China – are already reaping their rewards.

The Law Society is a frequent partner on the Lord Mayor’s overseas visits with business delegations. On these trips it is evident that our legal system is highly regarded. There are plenty of aspiring markets around the world where a lack of a reliable commercial legal framework is the biggest single handicap to a country’s reform and economic growth.

In private conversations with heads of government the point is regularly made that business thrives when commercial law is fast, predictable and fair.

The common law, and within it contract law, has enabled City law firms to flourish and be part of the lifeblood of the City. What’s more, this expertise and experience is a key ingredient in our international legal reputation. Our legal system is one that provides fair, equitable and ‘business-minded’ results, inspiring confidence in those seeking to invest in business projects throughout the world. It thus underpins the City and is one of the reasons why business chooses London.

The City, and UK plc, now know that in 2010 they will have the flagship Business Court they not only deserve, but also need.