It is fair to say that the volume and nature of commercial disputes generally reflect shifts in the prevailing winds of social, economic and political change. In the ten years since we established commercial litigation at Stewarts, the various forms of upheaval gave rise to a host of high-value, complex litigation and arbitration. This trend of upheaval and dramatic transformation looks set to continue over the next few years.
The financial crisis of a decade ago caught many unaware in terms of its fallout. It was not just another humdrum recession leading to the classic spate of insolvencies and repossessions of the kind we saw in the early 1990s. This was different. Although it gave rise to many claims against professional advisers and other deep-pocketed defendants, many of those who were seen as the cause of the disaster escaped unscathed. They were bailed out or not prosecuted or went unchallenged.
Banks failed, but many were viewed as too big to fail. State finances were rocked in ways that echoed the Great Depression and the seismic consequences were as unpredictable as they were calamitous. In all of this, litigation lawyers were kept busy, but often in unexpected ways. Securities litigation outside the US, multi-jurisdictional frauds, banks clamouring for cash to survive, and foreign nationals who viewed London as a cosmopolitan litigation playground all gave rise to colourful court proceedings. London has always been a hub of diverse activity, and with turbulent markets creating chaos this proved to be the case like never before.
Even though the ripples from the global financial crisis have finally abated, human and capital resources now move more randomly and more quickly than ever. This is fuelled in part by ever-changing technology in a world that often seems painfully fraught with complexity.
Given this backdrop, should we see another economic crisis and further political drama, it seems inevitable that London, as a global financial centre, will find itself host to the strife that will invariably accompany the resulting dislocation and adjustment. One does not need to possess clairvoyant powers to see that a variety of tectonic plates are shifting. If that is correct, new big-ticket disputes will soon follow. Brexit, radical political change and a world economy that is increasingly spooked by nine-digit national debt, protectionism, popular uprisings, terrorism, climate change and renewed nuclear proliferation means the scope for arguments about large sums of money is unlikely to diminish. From a UK perspective, the uncertainty of Brexit is already creating work for litigators. Clients are looking at such issues as the terms of their supply contracts, force majeure clauses, European VAT, and the mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments. The list goes on.
Anyone remotely capable of taking a calm and objective view of the UK and world economy right now is almost bound to conclude that the only racing certainty is that nothing at all is certain.
This sponsored market briefing first appeared in Legal Business Disputes Yearbook 2019, original can be found here.
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