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Announcement of UK general election puts stop to arbitration law reform

The planned reforms of the Arbitration Act 1996 in England and Wales will have to await the outcome of the UK general election, but a swift reintroduction of the Arbitration Bill in the new parliament may be possible, legal experts have said.

The UK’s Arbitration Bill, which is set to change the arbitration regime has been paused in its current legislative journey through Parliament to become law.

The Bill was not included as part of the UK’s pre-election legislative ‘wash-up’ announced earlier this week. The wash-up is the process by which the government agrees with other political parties which laws to rush through the legislative process before parliament is dissolved for a general election, and which to abandon. The Arbitration Bill, which had reached the committee stage in the House of Lords, is among a number of bills that have fallen through.

Scheherazade Dubash of Pinsent Masons said that it will be up to the next government following the general election to decide whether it wants to enact the reforms embodied by the bill, and if so, recommence the legislative process.

“However, given that it was already at the report stage in the House of Lords and the amount of scrutiny it has received up until now, the incoming administration may decide on a swift reintroduction of the Bill in the new parliament. Its return will also be helped by the apolitical nature of the Bill and the importance of the measures it was meant to address,” said Dubash.

David Thorneloe, public law and legislation expert at Pinsent Masons, said that as the Arbitration Bill has had broad cross-party support, it can be expected to return to parliament, whatever the outcome of the election.

“An immediate return is more likely if we see a Conservative government returned. What is not yet clear, if we see a Labour administration taking office, is whether they would have room for it amongst their other priorities for a first legislative programme. This could mean the bill is put on ice for a year or more,” he said.

The Bill aims to clarify the law governing arbitration agreements, strengthen the courts’ supporting powers, and facilitate speedier dispute resolution. Changes set out in the Bill include empowering arbitrators to expediate decisions on issues that have no real prospect of success; making it clear that the law governing an arbitration agreement will be the law of the seat chosen for arbitration unless parties expressly agree otherwise; imposing a new statutory duty on arbitrators to disclose circumstances which might give doubts about impartiality; and empowering UK courts to make orders supporting emergency arbitrators, so the decisions of emergency arbitrators will have the same efficacy of those of ‘full’ tribunals. 

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