Since the EU referendum result on 24 June 2016, we have provided information and advice to our members on the implications for the legal profession. We have also been working with members to identify what the sector needs in the EU negotiations and speaking to stakeholders in England and Wales, the EU and globally about these priorities.
See our work on Brexit and the legal sector.
Following these discussions we have identified the following priorities:
- Continued mutual access for lawyers to practise law and base themselves in the UK and EU member states, rights of audience in EU courts, institutions and the Unified Patent Court (when it opens) and for their clients to have legal professional privilege.
- Maintain mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments and respect for choice of jurisdiction clauses across the EU.
- Maintain collaboration in policing, security and criminal justice.
- Ensure that legal certainty is maintained throughout the process of withdrawal.
- Ensure that the government works with the legal services sector to continue to promote England and Wales as the governing law of contracts, the jurisdiction of choice and London as the preferred seat of arbitration.
Further details about each of these priorities can be found in the Law Society’s 2017 report Brexit and the Law.
Government reaction so far
We have been engaging with the government on these priorities and were pleased to see that its Brexit white paper (published in February 2017) included the following commitments on civil and criminal justice suggested by us:
- We recognise that an effective system of civil judicial cooperation will provide certainty and protection for citizens and businesses of a stronger global UK.
- We will continue to work with the EU to preserve UK and European security, and to fight terrorism and uphold justice across Europe.
The new lord chancellor has said that promoting legal services is a priority for him. Additionally, the former lord chancellor acknowledged the government will be working with the profession and judiciary ‘to maintain our prime position in the world of legal services and dispute resolution.’
Influencing decision makers
We have engaged with a number of influential stakeholders to discuss the legal sector priorities for the EU negotiations. These include:
Since the 2017 election, we have met with the new lord chancellor and justice minster to discuss Brexit. We have also met with the minister of trade policy, Lord Price, special adviser to the business secretary, the shadow lord chancellor, and shadow lords spokesperson on Brexit.
Prior to the election we met with the justice ministers, the home secretary, secretary of state for exiting the EU, and the attorney general. We have attended roundtables representing the sector with an international trade minister, ministers from the Department for Exiting the EU, the Departments for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the lord chancellor. We have also met with the Number 10 policy lead on justice.
The Brexit Taskforce roundtables were also attended by civil servants from the following departments:
- Ministry of Justice
- Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
- Department for Exiting the EU
- HM Treasury
- Intellectual Property Office
We have been liaising with officials from the Ministry of Justice, Department for Exiting the EU and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The mayor of London’s office
Immediate past president Robert Bourns secured a position on the mayor of London’s Brexit Advisory Group. We have been engaging with the mayor’s office, having held meetings with the deputy mayor for business and a number of officials.
The UK Law Societies’ Brussels Office has been engaging with officials from the EU Commission, the UK Permanent Representation and the European Parliament. The president also visited Brussels on 20 and 21 June to discuss our priorities.
Bars’ and law societies’ leaders
We are discussing with European bar representatives on a bilateral basis, and via the Council of European Bars and Law Societies, the implications of Brexit and our priorities for the negotiations.
Representation in government groups
As well as our regular meetings with officials, we have been playing a key role in a number of government industry/sector groups:
- Brexit Law Committee: This was set up by the former lord chancellor and lord chief justice to bring together a group of senior practitioners to identify and provide solutions for legal issues on Brexit. We provide the secretariat, and the chair is Robert Elliott, former senior partner at Linklaters. The group is currently looking at issues such as the European Court of Justice and how to retain civil justice co-operation.
- Professional Business Services Council’s (PBSC) Mutual Market Access Group: The Law Society is a member of the PBSC and has been working with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer - who chair the Mutual Market Access Group - to put together paper on market access for professional and business services in light of Brexit. A separate paper on legal services was produced and a summary of this will be circulated to committees shortly. Through the group, we met with Lord Prior, BEIS minister for professional services. The chair of the group is Edward Braham, senior partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
Working with parliament
We have held one-to-one meetings with a number of MPs and peers from across the political spectrum and attended last year’s political party conferences to discuss the priorities for the sector. We have also engaged with parliamentary committees (more below).
Since the EU referendum, a number of parliamentary committees have been undertaking inquiries on a number of issues on the UK’s withdrawal.
We have submitted written evidence to seven committees:
In addition, we were invited to give oral evidence to four committees:
- Justice Select Committee - 1 February
- International Trade Select Committee - 24 January
- EU Lords Justice Sub-Committee - 10 January
- EU Lords Internal Market Sub-Committee - 27 October
As a result of this work, the following committees highlighted and endorsed our calls and recommendations in their reports:
Many committees were engaged with the process of drafting our response to the Great Repeal Bill white paper published by the government in the days before the election. Due to the election result, it was felt the political environment required us to examine our influencing strategy afresh and a decision was made not to respond. Now the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has been published, the Law Society will be putting together some key areas to work with parliamentarians on to shape the bill. The work of committees in contributing to the white paper response will not be lost, however, as the expert opinions and knowledge shared will inform our future engagement strategy.
We will also monitor and brief on issues of interest for the profession on the Brexit bills, including the Immigration Bill.
General election campaign
During the campaign there was a short pause on some of the Law Society’s Brexit engagement. Publically our five priorities for Brexit have been incorporated into our wider general election campaign to ensure that the new government, parliamentarians and other decision makers understand the key concerns of the legal profession. They were included in our vision for law and justice, published on 5 May.
A number of our calls, including on Brexit, were incorporated in the manifestos of the main political parties.
Work with members and communications
To inform our members and gather their views, we have:
Global Legal Centre campaign
In autumn 2016, we launched a campaign to promote the benefits of the law of England and Wales, highlighting that it makes good business sense to choose:
- the law of England and Wales as the international law for contracts
- English and Welsh courts as the forum for settling disputes
- London as the preferred location to resolve disputes through arbitration.
You can download a campaign leaflet (PDF 681kb) which we are sharing with members of the global profession and businesses through our international work.
We have also been working closely with the judiciary on their activity to promote the jurisdiction.
- Following the general election, we have written to new or reappointed ministers to seek meetings for discussing our priorities for Brexit. Some of these meetings have already taken place, such as with the new lord chancellor, and they will continue in the autumn. We will engage with civil servants in the relevant departments as the negotiations continue.
- We have sent congratulatory letters and meeting requests to solicitor MPs. Nine new solicitor MPs entered parliament and five solicitors either stood down or lost their seats. We have also approached a number of non-solicitor MPs interested in Brexit. We will be holding a dinner for solicitor MPs in parliament in September and attending party conferences to discuss our priorities.
- Following the election of chairs of new parliamentary committees in July, we have been writing to those relevant to Brexit (Exiting the EU Select Committee, Justice Select Committee and a number of lords committees). We will also write to members of these committees once they are fully announced in September. We will also engage with parliament as the bills relevant to Brexit pass through the two houses, particularly the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.
- We will continue to engage with the CCBE, EU institutions and to meet bilaterally with European bars and law societies.
- We will be launching phase 2 of our Global Legal Centre campaign on 28 September. This will include videos of lawyers from across the globe speaking about the benefits of English and Welsh law and England and Wales as a jurisdiction of choice.