Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland declared yesterday that he aims to deliver a justice system across the UK “that is more accessible than any other jurisdiction on this planet”.
He explained that the Ministry of Justice was exploring ways to ensure that “parties can access the most appropriate methods for resolving their legal problems”.
He said: “We are looking for input from the sector and warmly welcome ideas on how we could make this work.”
Speaking at London International Disputes Week, Mr Buckland said the challenge of maintaining London and the UK’s reputation as one of the premier choices for international dispute resolution “will require us to be at the very forefront of change”.
He went on: “Re-defining the nature of dispute resolution will also form an important component of the government’s approach to that change.
“When it comes to resolving disputes, court is rarely the best option, let’s be frank about it. Despite this, parties regularly resort to litigation when simpler and faster alternatives such as mediation and conciliation exist.
“For too long, these approaches have been viewed as ‘alternative’ dispute resolution, as an add-on or diversion for people seeking to solve a dispute. I want to change this, and to embrace radical ways to get parties to use processes which achieve resolution without having to go to court.
“I thoroughly agree with the Master of the Rolls who addressed you on Monday that these processes should no longer be seen as ‘alternative’ but as integral to our justice system.”
He stressed the word “integral” and said with initiatives underway in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, “I am confident that together we can make the three great jurisdictions of the UK the best place in the world to resolve a dispute.”
Also in his speech, Mr Buckland announced that the government would soon issue a consultation on whether to sign and ratify the Singapore Convention on Mediation.
“Our current thinking is that doing so could help us to maintain London and the UK as an attractive disputes resolution hub, and, more generally, would promote international mediation. This would give parties even greater opportunity to access justice.”
He also criticised the assessment issued last week by the European Commission that the UK should not be permitted to accede to the Lugano Convention, which provides for the recognition and enforcement of civil and commercial judgments between the EU and EFTA states.
Mr Buckland said: “This assessment is in line with the commission’s long-stated view that participation is linked to the internal market and the United Kingdom, as a third country, should have a different arrangement than that of the EU and EFTA.
“This position has no legal basis. The Lugano Convention is an international agreement, specifically open to third parties with no requirement for single market membership and the UK meets all criteria for accession.
“In talking to my fellow justice ministers across Europe, I have been clear that we shouldn’t let ideology get in the way of sensible, pragmatic cooperation on issues of mutual interest which are of genuine benefit not just to us but to EU citizens and businesses.”
He added that the European Council would be “taking a view” on the UK’s application, “and we know that member states are divided on the merits of the UK application, with many thinking pragmatically and voicing their support”.
The Lord Chancellor’s address also highlighted the importance of improving diversity and inclusion within the profession to maintaining the international reputation of the UK legal services sector.