Co-Head of Commercial Litigation Mo Bhaskaran penned the foreword for this year’s Legal Business Disputes Yearbook, considering the seismic events that are shaping the world today and the state of the UK disputes market in their wake.

Bad things happen in threes (so my mum used to say). The cumulative impact of the UK leaving the EU, followed by Covid-19 and then Russia invading Ukraine, has launched a series of shockwaves through most of what we thought we knew about life, the universe and everything.

But has this recent and truly tumultuous period sowed a seed of something resembling what is often described to my (post WWII) generation as ‘the wartime spirit’ back into our lives and our world? Is resilience on the rise? Has the effect of shaking our foundations been to lay down stronger ones (which we litigate about less than we used to)?

Let’s take these enormous events one by one:

As for Brexit, after arguments and threats and allegations of breaches of international law, there are now signs that a cooperative relationship with the EU block may be emerging from the debris of recent ructions. Potential flashpoints remain, not least around the European Convention on Human Rights and the implications of the UK pulling back from it. Will our experiences of Brexit reduce the heat of further areas of disagreement?

Covid-19 is now behind us. Really? The far-reaching effects of a global pandemic are now ingrained in us all. Will any of us ever observe events on the other side of the world and think we are safe or it couldn’t happen here again? Even if the formal inquiry into how well the UK responded to Covid-19 may not report for some time, each of us now has our own stored-up experience of how we coped during those dark, deserted months.

And finally, the brutal events in Eastern Europe. In this new era, there has been collective action we haven’t seen before. If this had taken place before Brexit and Covid-19, would we have seen transit vans being driven to the border of Ukraine by a team of lawyers from the cities around the UK?

What impact the combination of the above has had on the UK disputes market is impossible to gauge. Undoubtedly, dispute volumes are down. A recent dataset from Portland Communications showed that last year, 20% fewer judgments were issued and 34% fewer litigants filed claims in the Commercial Court. Sanctions will also have had some impact on these statistics given the high usage of the UK courts by Russian litigants.

Having said this, the disputes market is starting to feel busier. New seams of cases may emerge, including class actions with a broader use of representative claims, securities claims being launched in the UK courts rather than the US and both insurance and competition claims continuing to evolve.

The impact of a global increase in resilience is obviously hard to measure but is worth bearing in mind in the years to come, whether you’re litigating in the Rolls Building or reading about transit van trips to Ukraine.

Subscribers can read the full Disputes Yearbook 2023 here.



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