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Rumble in the concrete jungle – London as a disputes powerhouse

23 January 2024. Published by Lucas Johncey, Trainee Solicitor

"London is the most attractive centre for commercial litigation and international arbitration" according to the Law Society's International Data Insights Report 2023.

It's hard to disagree, with UK legal services increasing by almost half a billion in 2021. However, when exploring the Commercial Court's history, it becomes apparent that this hasn't always been the case. So how did London establish itself as a hub for commercial litigation, and how can it retain this reputation?

The father of commercial law

The modern commercial dispute resolution procedure can largely trace its lineage back to Lord Mansfield who, in the 18th century, held some novel ideas on how to run a case. Some of his unique practices included:

  • Drawing local merchants with specialist knowledge into juries to advise on the more commercial aspects of a case;
  • Providing judgments almost immediately after hearing submissions from the parties; and
  • Generally streamlining the court process to encourage more efficient proceedings - he was even known to start reading the newspapers if counsel was being repetitive!

Consequently, the English courts attracted a growing number of commercial cases through offering an efficient, knowledgeable procedure whilst developing a consistent legal framework. 

However, Lord Mansfield's death saw the judiciary largely return to its old ways. Cases were taking longer to determine, and judges were taking months to provide very lengthy decisions. By the early 1800s, case waiting lists took up to two and a half years to reach trial. 

Lord Mansfield's innovations were revitalised with the creation of the Notices as to Commercial Cases in 1894. This specialist list led by J.C. Mathew provided an avenue whereby parties could have their cases heard by an expert commercial judge within a framework designed for speed and efficiency, without being at the expense of fairness and justice (Mathew's judgments were often only half a page and rarely longer than five).

The Commercial Court today

The Commercial Court has learnt its lessons from the days of Lord Mansfield. With 75% of cases in the Commercial Court including at least one international litigant, today clients from across the globe come to London for their commercial disputes. The reasons for this include:

  • With 13 specialised commercial judges, cases are heard by individuals with considerable expertise and knowledge in commercial dealings;
  • The long-established history of English commercial law means judges apply well-developed laws which offer consistency for future disputes; and
  • Proactive case management powers given to judges mean pragmatic, common sense and commercially appropriate solutions are considered and recommended at all stages.

All these factors allow clients to expect an efficient and sensible procedure when referring disputes to London. In 2021-2022 the London Commercial Courts gave more judgments than both New York and Singapore commercial courts/divisions, with many of these trials lasting less than a week.

The Commercial Court has also benefited from complementing London's growing arbitration offering. In 2022, 423 London LCIA arbitrators were appointed, more than both Singapore and Hong Kong. Arbitration offers a distinct alternative from court proceedings. Often, a private resolution procedure where parties may choose their arbitrators and enforce decisions through the Commercial Court is preferrable in commercially sensitive circumstances. 

The future of the Commercial Court

London's strong offering of both Commercial Court proceedings and arbitration has allowed it to prosper on the global dispute resolution stage. But to retain its position as "the most attractive centre for commercial litigation and international arbitration", it must ensure the qualities of efficiency and expertise are not lost in the wake of new developments. 

Artificial Intelligence is an expected game-changer within the coming years, and commercial judges will need to grapple with technically complex cases surrounding this. A continued commitment from parties, legal practitioners, and judges to stay up to date on this area will be important. 

The changing international political landscape may also pose an obstacle to many international cases that come through London's doors. The Commercial Court will need to maintain an open and fair regime, actively removing barriers to cross-border legal services and acting with the same efficiency and speed to ensure decisions are given in a helpful and timely fashion. 

Finally, the Arbitration Bill currently making its way through Parliament will likely be scrutinised carefully to ensure that its changes add value and enhance the qualities which so many international parties value about London arbitration.


London's long history as a centre for international dispute resolution has helped it develop unique qualities important to any commercial party seeking to resolve a dispute. Whether drafting dispute resolution clauses in contracts, preparing pre-action correspondence or issuing court claims, the benefits London offers should be kept in mind by all parties domestically and internationally.