The UK’s inefficient visa system is hurting the country’s reputation as a venue for high-end dispute resolution, according to a legal consultancy.
Hook Tangaza says that it has seen “numerous examples” of foreign lawyers being unable to get a UK visa in time to take part in a London-based commercial arbitration. This dents the UK’s hard-won reputation in the lucrative dispute resolution market.
International arbitrations typically involve multi-national companies which have a dispute agreeing to abide by the ruling of a panel of commercial lawyers instead of going to court. It is big business for the UK, with politicians and senior judges regularly talking up its importance to the British economy. Lord Justice Gross said in a recent speech that “the preservation and strengthening of London’s world-leading position as an arbitration centre or hub, is a matter of the highest importance”.
Lobby group TheCityUK says that Britain is a “global leader in international arbitration”, more of which take places in London than any other city in the world”. There is even a London International Disputes Week being marked next month.
Hook Tangaza, however, worries that the Home Office is putting all this at risk. The consultancy says:
Although it is politically unwelcome to say so, policies around the movement of people are absolutely critical to the ability of UK service industries to grow their international business. If the UK wishes to be successful in continuing to grow the international performance of its service sectors, it needs to take a much smarter approach to the movement of people…. We have come across numerous examples in our work of foreign lawyers being unable to obtain UK visas on the timescales required, even if there was no suggestion that they would not be granted in due course. When this happens, the lawyer involved will think twice before recommending to their clients again that the UK should be used as the location for an international arbitration.
Hook Tangaza’s founders, Alison Hook and Nankunda Katangaza, both worked at the Law Society on exporting legal services. Their comments come in written evidence submitted to the International Trade Committee of MPs. The pair say that a work visa exemption along the lines of Singapore’s would help maintain London’s position as a dispute resolution centre.