The Fifth Business and Property Court Forum Event took place on the 1 July 2019 , at Northumbria University, who was again our very gracious host. We had almost 100 attendees including members of the Judiciary, Barristers from all the local chambers, Solicitors, Accountants and Academics, as well as other service providers. It was particularly heart-warming to see that we have a great number of regulars, who are always attending our events, and we are grateful for their interest and support.
After a lovely introduction by HH Judge Kramer from the Newcastle Business and Property Court, the floor went to our star speaker, the Chancellor of the High Court, Sir Geoffrey Vos. The focus of this event and of his lecture was Smart Contracts.
Now, novel and technical as this subject may be for some (or maybe most) of us, one can always rely on the Chancellor to make it intelligible, clear, and entertaining. All those in attendance understood that the smart contracts are relating directly to crypto assets and function on Distributed Ledger Technology. He further explained that they are written in code, and the code will govern them if that is what the parties have agreed. Some are written in code and prose, and depending on the parties agreement, they will be governed by the prose.
Part of the lecture was setting out, very usefully indeed, the role of the UK Jurisdiction Task Force. The Chancellor expressed his belief, shared by most of us, that the English Law is in a good position to provide the legal infrastructure for the smart legal contracts, and that it will also be able to provide state of the art Dispute Resolution Systems. Of course, litigation arising from smart contracts hasn’t been originally given too much thought, as it was believed, naively, that there is no room for dispute because the consequences of every action (including breach) were written in the code and thus applied automatically. We must accept and prepare, however, for the fact that there will always be disputes. As such, we need to devise a new Dispute Resolution process for the future. Perhaps, as envisaged by Lord Justice Briggs, an online dispute resolution process, particularly tailored, which makes proper use of AI. Lord Justice Vos concluded that a whole re-think of the process will be required, and we will need to look at how exactly disputes arise in the context of smart contracts. Most importantly, the Courts will need to ensure that they remain relevant.
The Chancellor doesn’t necessarily expect a smooth ride, and nor should we as lawyers. To begin with, the coders are reluctant to engage with lawyers and the Courts led Dispute Resolution system. To put into context, we must remember that the first movers in the world of smart contracts wished to avoid any interaction with banks , courts, lawyers etc. That’s how smart contracts came to be. Fortunately for us, it remains correct that Lawyers, much like the Tax man, cannot be avoided for ever. Human nature will always require our assistance.
We were very pleased to also welcome within our midst Sir Gerald Barling, the Vice Chancellor of the High Court, who will now retire and pass the baton to Sir Richard Snowden.
Our next event will take place in October 2019, and all the details and booking process will be made available in due course.
The Committee members wish to thank Northumbria University for the venue, the Newcastle Law Society for their ongoing support and Parklane Plowden Barristers for the refreshments.
Cristina Falzon, 1 July 2019