What is the Difference Between Arbitration and Issuing Legal Proceedings/Litigation?

The choice between arbitration and litigation is a pivotal decision that can shape the course of dispute resolution.

Apr 04, 2024

Arbitration vs Issuing Legal Proceedings

While arbitration offers a private, often more expedient route to settlement, litigation brings the weight of the judicial system to bear, with its formal procedures and public judgments. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for any party navigating the complexities of legal disputes and seeking the most effective means to resolve them.

In this article, we explain the nuanced differences between these two approaches, examining their respective processes, outcomes, and implications for the parties involved. 

Key Highlights

  • In this article, we highlight misconceptions among SMEs about arbitration clauses.
  • We explain that SMEs often expect arbitration quicker, more cost-effective, and more confidential than litigation. However, the reality can differ, especially if the opposing party is uncooperative. 
  • We explore the advantages of legal action over arbitration, emphasising the importance of proactive contract drafting to protect creditor interests and ensure enforceability.

Misconceptions Among SMEs Concerning Arbitration

Many SMEs believe that including arbitration clauses in their contracts will serve as a panacea for dispute resolution. They anticipate that arbitration will offer a quicker, more cost-effective, and confidential process compared to traditional litigation. They expect it to provide a more amicable way to resolve business debt disputes without damaging business relationships. However, the practical reality often diverges from these expectations.

In practice, arbitration can be equally as costly and time-consuming as court proceedings, especially if the opposing party is uncooperative. SMEs may even bear the costs for both parties if the debtor chooses not to participate in the arbitration process. This can be particularly challenging for smaller enterprises with limited financial resources. 

Additionally, when the debtor deliberately avoids payment, arbitration may not be the most effective course of action, as it is not designed to handle clear-cut cases of non-compliance with contractual terms.

So, while arbitration can be a valuable tool in certain contexts, SMEs must proceed with it with a clear understanding of its limitations. This approach ensures their contracts are drafted to allow for alternative actions in cases where it may not be suitable. 

Reality Check: The Arbitration Process and Non-Payment Strategies

When faced with companies that employ deliberate non-payment strategies, the effectiveness of arbitration can be called into question. Such companies may disregard the arbitration process entirely, viewing it as a mere formality rather than a binding resolution. This flagrant dismissal undermines the very foundation of arbitration, which relies on both parties’ respect for the procedure.

The potential ineffectiveness of arbitration in these scenarios is further exacerbated when the non-paying party has no intention of honouring the arbitrator’s decision. In such cases, the arbitration process can become a protracted affair, with little hope of recovering the owed amounts. This increases legal costs and prolongs the financial strain on the aggrieved party.

In addition, the private nature of arbitration means there is no public record of the dispute, which could otherwise serve as a deterrent to other potential non-payers. Consequently, the lack of transparency may embolden companies with a strategy of deliberate non-payment, as the reputational risk is minimised.

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Cost Implications of Arbitration

The cost implications of arbitration can be significant, particularly in cases where the debtor opts not to participate. In such scenarios, creditors may be shouldering the financial burden for both parties. This includes not only their own legal fees and the arbitrator’s charges but also potentially those of the absent debtor.

The costs typically encompass the following:

  • Administrative fees, which are payments made to the arbitration institution managing the case. 
  • Arbitrator’s fees, which are based on the complexity and duration of the case. 
  • Legal representation also constitutes a major expense, with solicitors and barristers charging hourly or daily rates. 
  • Other costs might include hiring experts, preparing documents, and renting facilities for the arbitration proceedings.

When debtors fail to comply, creditors are often left to cover these expenses, which can escalate quickly and add a substantial financial strain. Creditors must assess the likelihood of debtor participation before proceeding with arbitration, as the costs incurred may outweigh the benefits if the debtor remains non-compliant. 

In such situations, creditors might consider engaging a debt recovery agency as a means to mitigate some of the financial risks. These agencies specialise in recovering debts, which can provide a more cost-effective solution compared to arbitration, especially when the business debtor's non-compliance is anticipated.

The Ineffectiveness of Arbitration in Non-Dispute Situations

It’s essential to recognise that arbitration is designed to resolve disputes where there is a genuine disagreement over the terms or execution of a contract. However, when non-payment is intentional, it does not constitute a dispute but rather a clear breach of the agreement.

In such cases, arbitration may not be the most effective course of action. The process assumes that both parties are willing to engage and negotiate to reach a resolution. Conversely, intentional non-payment indicates a deliberate decision to disregard the contractual obligations, leaving little room for arbitration to work as intended.

The distinction between disputes and intentional non-payment is crucial:

  • A dispute arises from differing interpretations, unforeseen circumstances, or genuine disagreements about the terms of a contract. 
  • Intentional non-payment, however, is a unilateral action that reflects a party’s decision not to honour the agreement, often without any legal justification.

In such scenarios, alternative legal remedies may be more appropriate to address the breach and seek restitution.

The Benefits of Legal Action Over Arbitration

Opting for legal action, particularly in a jurisdiction renowned for its judicial efficiency, can significantly hasten the commercial debt recovery process. Legal proceedings provide a structured and authoritative framework for compelling payment through enforceable judgments, thereby offering a more direct approach to debt recovery.

In contrast to arbitration, which can be protracted and requires mutual consent to the process, legal action is binding regardless of the debtor’s stance. This ensures creditors have a clear pathway to enforce their rights and recover debts. Moreover, the formal nature of legal proceedings often exerts greater pressure on debtors to settle their dues promptly.

Modern-day debt collection agencies often play a pivotal role in this context. They are adept at navigating the legal landscape to recover outstanding debts efficiently. Their expertise and resources can be invaluable in expediting the process, especially when arbitration has proven ineffective.

Judicial vs Arbitral Remedies

Judicial remedies are the outcomes of a court process and carry the weight of law, making them generally more straightforward to enforce. They are backed by the judicial system’s authority, which can compel compliance through various enforcement mechanisms.

Arbitral remedies, on the other hand, result from arbitration proceedings, which are private dispute resolution mechanisms. While legally binding, their enforceability can be less direct, often requiring a separate court process to confirm and enforce the award if the losing party fails to comply.

The impact on compliance and resolution outcomes can vary significantly between the two. Judicial remedies tend to have a stronger deterrent effect due to the potential for immediate legal consequences, such as garnishment or seizure of assets. This can lead to higher rates of voluntary compliance.

In contrast, arbitral arbitration may be perceived as having a softer impact, as they typically rely on the parties’ willingness to honour the arbitration process and its outcomes. 

Jurisdictional Advantage in Legal Proceedings

When parties opt for a legal venue characterised by swift and fair proceedings, they gain a significant tactical edge. This is particularly true in commercial disputes, where time is often equated with money.

Choosing a jurisdiction with a robust legal framework and a reputation for expedited processes can deter parties from engaging in dilatory tactics. It also ensures that dispute resolution is not bogged down by procedural delays, allowing for quicker enforcement of judgments and orders.

Certain jurisdictions also offer specialised courts that deal with specific types of disputes, such as commercial debt collection or intellectual property cases. Litigating in these courts can provide parties with judges who have expert knowledge in the relevant field, leading to more informed and nuanced decisions.

The strategic benefits of litigating in such jurisdictions are manifold. They include the potential for a more favourable legal environment, the possibility of setting a precedent in a particular area of law, and the psychological advantage of ‘home court’ familiarity.

So, the choice of jurisdiction is not merely a procedural formality but a critical strategic decision that can influence the trajectory and outcome of legal disputes.

Drafting Contracts for Creditor Protection

When drafting contracts, it is essential to incorporate specific measures to counteract evasive debtors. Clauses stipulating immediate legal recourse in the event of non-payment, without pre-litigation mediation or arbitration, can be particularly effective. Additionally, defining clear consequences for non-compliance, such as late payment penalties or interest, can incentivise the timely fulfilment of obligations.

Jurisdiction clauses that specify the governing law and the competent court can streamline enforcement. Provisions for recovering legal costs from the debtor can also alleviate the creditor's financial burden in the event of legal action.

Overall, meticulously crafting contracts with robust protective measures for creditors is a critical step in safeguarding their financial interests. It ensures that creditors have a clear and enforceable path to secure their dues in the face of debtor delinquency.

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Strategic Contract Wording for Immediate Legal Action

Business contracts must be meticulously drafted to facilitate swift legal recourse in instances of non-payment. The language used within the contract should be unequivocal, providing clear terms that, if breached, allow the aggrieved party to pursue immediate legal action without the need for lengthy dispute resolution processes.

For example, a contract might include a clause stating, “In the event of non-payment within the agreed terms, the creditor reserves the right to initiate legal proceedings forthwith, without requirement for further notice or arbitration.” Such wording deters non-payment and streamlines the legal enforcement process.

Incorporating strategic phrases into contracts can significantly enhance a creditor’s ability to respond decisively to clear-cut cases of non-payment, ensuring that their rights are robustly protected and enforceable under the law. This prudent approach underscores the seriousness of the payment terms and the consequences of non-compliance.

Proactive vs Reactive Contract Drafting

Proactive contract drafting is characterised by strategic foresight, where potential disputes and their resolutions are anticipated and addressed within the contract’s terms. This approach offers the benefit of preparedness, reducing the likelihood of protracted legal disputes and providing clear guidelines for conflict resolution. Conversely, reactive contract drafting responds to issues as they arise, offering flexibility but potentially leading to increased legal costs and uncertainty. While reactive drafting adapts to situations post-facto, proactive drafting establishes a firm legal foundation from the outset, often leading to more predictable and favourable outcomes for the parties involved.


Giles Goodman - Payfor CEOAuthor: Giles Goodman, Founder CEO of Payfor Limited
Giles Goodman, drawing from his diverse background in music, property, and tech startups,
offers invaluable expertise in navigating intricate financial landscapes. Through his writing,
Giles shares insights tailored to business owners, leveraging his wealth of experience to provide practical
guidance and support.

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Disclaimer:

This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The information provided in this post is based on general principles and may not apply to specific legal situations. Laws and regulations vary by jurisdiction and can change over time. Readers are advised to seek professional legal counsel before making any decisions based on the information provided in this blog post. Payfor Ltd is not a law firm and does not provide legal services. The company disclaims any liability for actions taken based on the contents of this blog post.

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