UK Judge: 'No Doubt' Smart Contract Law Update Should Be Considered

The leading judge in England and Wales has said U.K. law may need to be updated to account for blockchain-based smart contracts.

AccessTimeIconJul 14, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 1:32 p.m. UTC
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The top judge for England and Wales believes that U.K. law may need to be updated to account for blockchain-based smart contracts.

John Thomas, Baron Thomas of Cwmgiedd, serves as the Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales, and is effectively the most senior judge in whole of the U.K.

Late last month, in previously unreported comments, Thomas gave remarks during a lecture event held bi-annually by the U.K. Law Commission, an independent body that monitors legal developments in the country and recommend reform actions to the government.

What he said: Thomas' speech focused on legal reform in light of 21st century developments, advocating for actions to keep British law up to date with the digital economy.

During his remarks, Thomas commented on efforts by the European Commission – the executive arm of the European Union – to harmonize its rules with an increasingly digitized economy. He pointed to the bloc's work on digital currencies and blockchain, going on to suggest that the U.K. should pursue a similar agenda.

He told event attendees:

"Certainly, the European Commission takes the view that legislative change will be needed to deal with new forms of contract such as the blockchain and smart contracts. I have no doubt that we must consider whether our law (as it will then be) will need similar legislative updating."

Why it matters: The past year has seen a number of instances in which smart contracts and blockchain-based signatures are given a degree of legal representation, seen more recently in U.S. states like Arizona and Vermont.

Most recently, the state of Delaware cleared legislation that recognizes business records that are tied to a distributed ledger system.

In his speech, Thomas notably questioned whether such a process should be left to judicial consideration – "developing the law in the traditional manner" – in the context of the digital age.

While he wasn't actively pushing for changes to U.K. rules to account for the technology, his endorsement for a process that would consider such a move is a major one, given his position.

John Thomas image via Wikipedia


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