Speech by the Master of the Rolls: Technological challenges for English law and jurisdiction

CivilMaster of the RollsSpeeches

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First of all, can I thank your CEO, Scott O’Malia for having invited me to deliver this talk this morning. Much as we all enjoy our new Zoom culture, I certainly hope to be able to meet many of you in person before too long.

My brief for this morning was to address first, the challenges to English law and jurisdiction that the judiciary is addressing and secondly, my work as chair of the UK Jurisdiction Taskforce in developing a mechanism for digital dispute resolution.

I took the precaution of looking back at what I said when I addressed ISDA’s Technology Forum on 6 November 2019. I spoke then about three things. First, the uncertainty about the legal status of cryptoassets and smart contracts, which had dampened the confidence of main-stream investors in throwing their financial weight beyond these technologies. Secondly, I said that, whilst there had been much work done to develop on-chain payment methods for the wholesale banking markets, these systems were not yet widely available. Thirdly, I mentioned that no routine and simple dispute resolution process had been developed for use with smart contracts and transactions involving cryptoassets and blockchain.

I expressed the view on that occasion that, if these three things were readily available, it would be transformational for the industry’s confidence in the use of new technologies. Each would, in their own way, give legal security to investors and traders alike.

It is worth revisiting briefly each of these areas.