UK Jurisdiction Taskforce consults on legal status of DLT and smart contracts - with assistance from Linklaters

Linklaters is assisting the UK Jurisdiction Taskforce (UKJT) as it coordinates the preparation of an authoritative legal statement on the status of distributed ledger technology (DLT) and smart contracts under English private law.

This is intended to provide clarity to market participants by resolving any identified issues of legal uncertainty or highlighting areas that may be ripe for further clarificatory steps to be taken. As well as advising on the consultation process, Linklaters is represented on the UKJT through Richard Hay, UK Head of Fintech at Linklaters.

Objectives of the taskforce

The UKJT, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Vos, Chancellor of the High Court, is one of the six taskforces of the LawTech Delivery Panel (LTDP). The LTDP was established by the UK Government, the Judiciary and the Law Society of England and Wales and has as its overarching objective the promotion of the use of technology in the UK's legal sector. 

The objective of the UKJT is to demonstrate that English law and the jurisdiction of England and Wales together provide a state-of-the-art foundation for the development of DLT, smart contracts and associated technologies.

UKJT consultation on legal uncertainties

As part of the work being done to prepare the legal statement, the UKJT has published a consultation paper seeking input from market participants on the principal issues of perceived legal uncertainty relating to these new technologies.

The main two questions are: 

(i) whether cryptoassets and private keys would be personal property, and 
(ii) the circumstances in which a smart contract could be legally enforceable.

Richard Hay commented: 

"this is an important opportunity for the market to help to address perceived legal uncertainties and drive further adoption of distributed ledger technology and smart contracts, particularly at an enterprise level." 
What’s happening next?

Once the consultation has closed, the UKJT will commission a legal statement from senior counsel, which will either demonstrate that English private law already provides sufficiently certain answers, or it will highlight areas that may need to be clarified.

A public event to discuss the consultation questions will take place on 4 June 2019. The deadline for responses to the consultation is 21 June 2019.