English law – a Great British export

english law in moscow

As an English qualified lawyer operating in the Moscow market, one of the first things I am asked, whether within a professional or social context, is how it is possible to be an English qualified solicitor in Moscow? The answer is actually very simple: the primacy of the laws of England and Wales makes them one of the United Kingdom’s best exports. This, in turn, makes an English legal background nearly as highly sought-after in Moscow, as it is in London. Allow me to explain.

25% of the world’s 320 or so legal jurisdictions have English law as their basis. This includes not only much of the U.K. and the United States*, but India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Singapore and Hong Kong, to name just a few, as well as many of the major offshore financial centres, such as Cyprus, the Channel Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda etc. To be sure, this is a direct relic of the British Empire, but one which is notable for the way in which it has long been embraced and developed by long since independent states.

Based upon such a critical mass of worldwide influence, in more recent times, and in particular following Margaret Thatcher’s so-called ‘Big Bang’ of the 1980s, when the City of London was deregulated and began to extend its influence enormously, the use of English law has taken on an unparalleled significance. For example, according to research carried out by the Queen Mary University in London, which was recently cited in a paper issued by ‘TheCityUK’ in connection with Brexit, 40% of governing law clauses in global corporate arbitrations use English law. Furthermore, London is largely regarded as the leading international centre for dispute resolution and the statistics for the UK’s legal services market demonstrate that it utterly dominates its EU competitors: the UK legal market is nearly triple that of Germany’s and a multiple of more than 5 times the size of the French market, its two nearest competitors.

In reality, the dominance of England and Wales as the premier international legal jurisdiction, can be put down to much more than just history, the City of London or even the regularly cited benefits of a centrally located time zone and the prevalence of the English language. International contractual parties particularly value the use of English law for a whole host of reasons. Most importantly, English law allows the courts and arbitral tribunals to enforce contracts to reflect the intentions of the parties and the commercial bargain which they intended to make when signing the contract. Secondly, English law recognises both the use of trusts and oral contracts, and provides clients with access to equitable remedies (in essence remedies based on principles of fairness rather than mere formality). Finally, businessmen the world over using English law governed contracts, gain much comfort in the knowledge that the legal system has developed by way of centuries of case law, which is constantly being developed through further judgments heard by an independent and highly experienced judiciary within a well-managed court system.

In short, given the quality of the English legal system itself, the certainty with which it is applied and the efficient resolution of complicated disputes, it is no surprise that our Russian friends, like so many of their international counterparts, value the English legal system and the highly trained advisors, which are a necessary aspect of it.

*Scotland, in the U.K., and the State of Louisiana, in the U.S., actually have civil law legal systems for historical reasons.