July 2, 2022

Volume XII, Number 183

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From Cryptic to (some) Clarity: English Law and Policy Rising to the Challenge of Cryptoassets, Part 1

Sir Geoffrey Vos, the Master of the Rolls, wants English law to be at the forefront of developments relating to cryptoassets and smart contracts. In his thought-provoking foreword to the government-backed UK Jurisdictional Taskforce’s (UKJT) Legal Statement on Cryptoassets and Smart Contracts, he explained that English law should aim to provide “much needed market confidence, legal certainty and predictability in areas that are of great importance to the technological and legal communities and to the global financial services industry” as well as to “demonstrate the ability of the common law in general, and English law in particular, to respond consistently and flexibly to new commercial mechanisms.” He returned to the same theme in a speech on 24 February 2022 at the launch of the Smarter Contracts report by the UKJT in which he said “[m]y hope is that English law will prove to be the law of choice for borderless blockchain technology as its take up grows exponentially in the months and years to come”.

The law defines whether and how an owner can find and recover a stolen asset, whether a contract about an asset can be enforced and whether rights are owed between parties in relation to an asset.  English law has traditionally been very flexible in fashioning remedies to uphold contracts and to allow parties to preserve and follow (trace) assets – by interim protective relief in the form of injunctions, disclosure orders against third parties (Banker’s Trust orders), by recognising trusts over assets and by the English Courts accepting jurisdiction over claims in the first place.  If English law allows owners of cryptoassets to access these remedies, it should provide the “market confidence, legal certainty and predictability” described by Sir Geoffrey Vos.

In this article, we explore the extent to which recent developments in English law have furthered these objectives and address in turn:

  • Are cryptoassets property?

  • Can cryptoassets be held on trust?

Read the first part of the series on our Blockchain and the Law blog.

© 2022 Proskauer Rose LLP. National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 124
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About this Author

Partner

Steven Baker is a partner in the Litigation department and a member of the International Arbitration group. He has over 25 years of experience advising clients on complex, often multi-jurisdictional disputes in a wide range of industries, including asset management, technology, life sciences, financial services and defence sectors. He also has extensive experience advising upon and managing disputes for clients involving major technology or telecommunications projects and their financing, technology licensing and misappropriation of trade secrets.

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+44.20.7280.2238
Associate

Julia Bihary is an associate in the Litigation Department.

+44.20.7280.2092
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