Members of The English Bar remain a popular choice for law firms based in Asia Pacific (APAC) owing to their outstanding advocacy skills, in-depth legal expertise, and commercial know-how; acting as both advocates and arbitrators, many bring a truly global perspective to matters having appeared in disputes and arbitrations seated in the US, Africa, and the Middle East in addition to their extensive experience before the higher UK courts. Moreover, the names who appear in our rankings spend a significant proportion of their time on APAC-related mandates and express a willingness to immerse themselves in the local markets. Some operate full-time from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia, several are licensed to practice law locally while others are native speakers of, or have endeavoured to learn, Mandarin and Cantonese.
Singapore remains the most vibrant jurisdiction for international arbitration in the region, owing to the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), to the extent that several sets, including Fountain Court Chambers, 39 Essex Chambers, and Twenty Essex, have sought to deepen their integration into the ‘Little Red Dot’ with local offices; Essex Court Chambers continues to have as a sister entity Essex Court Chambers Duxton, a Singapore law advocacy practice, which is considered separately in our coverage of Singapore.
Hong Kong, where 4 Pump Court has a second office, remains the second most active jurisdiction with the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC) principally hosting local and Chinese disputes. Given the current political climate, long-term uncertainties remain over the impartiality of its judicial and political systems, though for the time being, no set reported a downturn in Hong Kong-related instructions over the course of the relevant research cycle. Other centres of activity include the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (Cietac), the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board (KCAB), and to a lesser extent, the Vietnam International Arbitration Centre. Beyond locally seated disputes, a further key component of the English Bar’s engagement with Asia is its representation of Asia-based clients party to matters seated outside of the jurisdiction such as those at the International Court of Arbitration (ICC), The London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) and of course the London courts.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, participating sets reported no downturn of note in terms of engagement with some even describing an uptick in APAC-related mandates, both in terms of related disputes and advisory work stemming from the economic precariousness. Closed borders and discouraged international travel resulted in many hearings proceedings remotely, a process which by all accounts delivered better than expected results. Understandably, the amount of screen time involved was reported as a concern, as was the process for exhibiting evidence. Going forwards, there is a prevailing consensus that even when the world emerges from its current blight, virtual hearings will prove to be a benefit; particularly for short, one or two-day hearings, where the travel time involved can often prove to be longer than the duration of advocacy work.