I was privileged to attend the official opening of the new Rolls Building when it was formally opened by HM The Queen. Part of the Royal Courts of Justice, this impressive new court complex is located at the heart of the City of London on Fetter Lane and is the largest specialist centre for the resolution of financial, business and property litigation anywhere in the world. As a centre of excellence, the Rolls Building is in good company, as it takes its place alongside other world-famous seats of justice in the UK - meaning Britain has even more to offer.
There are few areas where the UK is stronger than in the law. The rule of law is one of our greatest exports. English law was firmly established by the late 19th century as the predominant law of commerce for international business transactions. Our law boasts the ideal combination of predictability and flexibility and lawyers in the UK have rightly earned a reputation for integrity and trust.
Little wonder then that English law now provides the legal framework for most international commercial transactions; while most of the litigation before Courts in the UK involves at least one foreign party. Also, there are virtually no barriers for international law firms wishing to enter the UK market, making London the home of more than 200 foreign law firms.
This freedom to operate and the regard for law in the UK means confidence; and this confidence has helped make UK legal services so important to our economy. The figures are impressive - UK legal services generated £19.3bn in 2010, while legal services exports for 2010 totalled £3.6bn. And as the UK’s economy emerges from a difficult period, the Government is committed to supporting the growth of legal services. It is vitally important that the country builds on this strength to support the recovery.
I was in India earlier this year highlighting the mutual benefits of increasing the levels of legal business between the UK and India. I met with Indian business people and lawyers to promote the UK as a centre of excellence for litigation and alternative dispute resolution. Mediation and arbitration are quicker, easier and cheaper ways for businesses to solve disputes and it is estimated that mediation alone could save businesses up to £1.4bn a year.
I am backing the work to liberalise India’s legal services. In my meetings with influential Indian business people I made the case that restrictions on international law firms and foreign lawyers are holding back inward investment and growth there. Liberalisation is a vital contributor to India’s future economic success - the Indian legal market is currently estimated to be worth $4 billion but if fully liberalised its value to India could be $12.3 bn.
I am also delighted to give my continued support to the Unlocking Disputes campaign. This innovative campaign promotes London as a centre for global dispute resolution. It is being led by the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, and TheCityUK, which together with the City of London Corporation promotes UK financial and professional services.
The international outlook and specialist expertise available from solicitors, barristers and throughout the City of London has played a major role in developing London as the most used venue for unlocking international disputes. The campaign showcases this, and other unique legal services our capital can offer to clients all over the world, enhancing London’s reputation and helping the City to remain a world leader for financial and professional services.
This great initiative is part of the Plan for Growth published in the summer by the Ministry of Justice and UK Trade and Investment, setting out how the country’s commercial arbitration, mediation and court services will be promoted to a global audience. MoJ’s Plan for Growth is just one part of the Government’s wider aim to encourage growth within the UK, with particular emphasis on the potential benefits for businesses.
I said earlier this year I was prepared to wear out much shoe leather promoting the UK as lawyer and adviser to the world. So next year I will be visiting a number of countries, and speaking to my counterparts when they are in the UK to promote our excellent legal services. Our Ministers and Ambassadors have also been promoting UK legal services during discussions with their overseas counterparts, helping to create the conditions where our legal sector can continue to flourish and prosper.