arbitration agreements

Recent developments have impacted the much-anticipated update to the English Arbitration Act 1996. Proposed reforms, developed by the Law Commission and through a consultation process, marked the first significant changes to the Act since its inception. However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s unexpected decision to call a general election in July 2024 has halted all current parliamentary business, including the passage of the bill to reform the Act.

We have previously reported on changes the Law Commission was considering to the Arbitration Act 1996 (the Act). The Law Commission has now published its final report (the Final Report, available here).

The report draws to a close a review of English arbitration legislation that began in January 2022. A draft bill to implement the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations into law is provided with the report so it is now for the UK government to decide whether to introduce those changes to parliament.

Last month saw the end of the second round of the UK Law Commission’s consultation on reform of the Arbitration Act 1996, the legislation which provides the framework for arbitration in England and Wales. We have reported on the current status of the consultation and are watching for the final recommendations.

England is one of the most popular jurisdictions for commercial parties to resolve disputes through arbitration: London and Paris were ranked as the top two preferred cities in the world in 2022. To ensure England’s arbitration regime remains modern and competitive, the Law Commission –  a body responsible for considering and recommending legislative change to the UK government – is currently considering updates to the legal framework of arbitration in England & Wales, the Arbitration Act 1996 (the Act).

When a litigant seeks to compel arbitration pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), there are two issues that must be resolved: (1) whether there is an agreement to arbitrate; and, if so, (2) whether the dispute at issue falls within the scope of the arbitration agreement.  The Florida Supreme Court’s recent decision in Airbnb, Inc. v. Doe, deals with who decides this second issue—the court or an arbitrator.

In Airbnb, a couple sued Airbnb and Wayne Natt (the property owner) for issues arising out of their stay at Natt’s condominium, which was listed for rent on Airbnb’s website.  Airbnb moved to compel arbitration, arguing that the couple was required to arbitrate their claims because Airbnb’s Terms of Service included an arbitration provision that integrated the AAA Rules.  All parties agreed that the couple was bound by the arbitration agreement—the issue then became whether the court or the arbitrator should decide if the couple’s claims against Airbnb were arbitrable.

In an 8-1 decision, the United States Supreme Court recently held in Badgerow v. Walters that federal courts may not examine the substance of arbitration disputes to establish federal question jurisdiction under Sections 9 and 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”).  Not only did this decision resolve a circuit split, it, in essence, shifted more responsibility to state courts to confirm or vacate arbitration awards.

Website owners who seek to bind visitors to the terms of an arbitration agreement must make those terms “reasonably conspicuous” under the law, and website visitors must “manifest unambiguous assent” to those terms.  That means that the smallest of details – the font and color of the text, the color of the page, the location and appearance of the hyperlinks and the “I agree” button – carry tremendous legal significance.  Those seemingly small design details could make the difference between a dispute being resolved in arbitration, or in litigation.