As welcome as flowers in May: The new Arbitration Act on the horizon

A long-desired development in the arbitration sector: Having included into the King’s Speech only a couple of days ago, the draft Arbitration Bill is taking its course to the UK Parliament. Brief key points below.

In March 2021, the Ministry of Justice asked the Law Commission to conduct a review of the Arbitration Act 1996 to ensure that the legislation remains fit for its purpose and continues to promote England and Wales as a leading destination for commercial arbitration. The consultation process that began in January 2022 analysed the existing law in two consultation papers (the papers were published in September 2022 and March 2023 respectively). See the related blog posts here Law Commission to review the Arbitration Act 1996 – The Institute of International Shipping & Trade Law (IISTL) Blog and here The next step in the reform of the Arbitration Act 1996 – The Institute of International Shipping & Trade Law (IISTL) Blog

Following the Law Commission’s completion of the review of the Arbitration Act, the final report was published in September 2023.  With the Law Commission’s estimations of at least 5,000 domestic and international arbitrations taking place in England and Wales each year, it was vital to modernise the arbitration framework and respond to global competition in the sector. Indeed, several competing jurisdictions have updated their legislation more recently: Singapore in 2023, Hong Kong in 2022, and Sweden and Dubai in 2018. Further, Singapore ranked equal first to London as the preferred choice of seat for the first time in 2021.

The Commission’s conclusions and recommendations were accompanied by a draft Arbitration Bill which was announced by King Charles in his speech at the State Opening Parliament on 7 November 2023. The King’s Speech points out that the Bill modernises the law on arbitration as recommended by the Law Commission. It has been stated that the reforms clarify the law governing arbitration agreements, strengthen the courts’ supporting powers, and facilitate quicker dispute resolution. The King’s speech also indicates that the new measures will bolster England, Wales, and Northern Ireland’s world-leading domestic and international arbitration sector with benefits for individuals and businesses seeking to resolve disputes, as well as boosting economic growth.

With the Government’s acceptance of the recommendations introduced by the Commission in the proposed Bill means that we can now anticipate a draft legislation to come before the parliament soon. The Bill will update the Arbitration Act 1996 that is currently in force. The territorial scope of the expected legislation covers England and Wales whereas the Arbitration Act 1996 also applies to Northern Ireland. Subject to the agreement of the Northern Ireland Department of Justice, the Bill might also extend and apply to Northern Ireland.

The King’s Speech 2023 is available here: The King’s Speech 2023: background briefing notes – GOV.UK (