Developments in the History of Arbitration

A Past for the Present?


  • Francis Calvert Boorman



It is not always easy to see the relevance of history to current practice, a complaint that might be levelled at the history of arbitration. Yet the uses made of history in work about the present state of arbitration show that some fascinating interventions have been made by both eminent academics and practitioners, with some important differences emerging in their interpretations. This article gives a brief overview of the history of legislation relating to arbitration, which predominantly relates to the relationship of arbitration with commerce and the courts. It also suggests that recent developments in studies of the history of arbitration challenge some of the assumptions made by those using it to illuminate the present. One particular difficulty with the way history has been used is the tendency to focus exclusively on commercial arbitration. Two detailed examples are given of areas that have received less attention; arbitration in the early railway industry and its use settling disputes for working-class friendly societies. These point the way to exploring a more diverse history, that looks beyond London, lawyers and commerce.

Keywords: arbitration; dispute resolution; history; Georgian; Victorian; railways; friendly societies; legislation.


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Special Section: ADR Issues and Development (Part 1)