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Westminster Hall debate: The impact of Brexit on legal services

23 November 2018

A debate was held in Westminster Hall on legal services and leaving the EU. It was called to debate the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Legal and Constitutional Affairs report, 'the effect of Brexit on legal services', which was published last month. The Law Society provides the secretariat for the APPG.

The Law Society was mentioned 7 times during the debate and the APPG’s report was extensively quoted from.

Read the full transcript of the debate.

Moving the debate

  • Moving the debate, Jonathan Djanogly MP (Conservative and Chair of the APPG on Legal and Constitutional Affairs) noted that the APPG had published the report and thanked the Law Society as the secretariat for its assistance in producing the report.

  • He noted that the UK legal services sector is a success story, and that it contributed a significant amount to the wider economy.

  • He outlined concerns of the legal services sector on the government's current approach and whether it will deliver sustainable market access for legal services.

  • He noted that unlike financial services, there is no in-depth common rulebook or Europe-wide regulator in legal services, and that legal services remain regulated autonomously by each EU member state, while functioning on the principle that an EU law firm should be treated as equal to domestic lawyers and firms.

  • He said that legal services and services in general have not been given the same attention as manufactured goods have during the Brexit process.

  • He outlined the findings of the report, and the 10 recommendations it made.

Minister's response

  • At the conclusion of the debate, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lucy Frazer QC MP welcomed the report from the APPG. She noted the contribution of the sector to the UK economy. She highlighted that English law is the most widely used in the world and said that international firms want to operate in this country. She agreed with the report that 'Brexit will be the largest ever change to the UK’s legal framework and it presents both opportunities and risks for the legal sector.'

  • She noted that during the transitional period, market access will remain the same. The draft withdrawal agreement provides that, during the implementation period, EU and UK professionals working in the UK or EU will continue to have their professional qualifications recognised.

  • She said that 'in a no-deal scenario, there will be no basis for reciprocity-registered European lawyer status, which allows European economic area lawyers to practice permanently in the UK under their home title, will be phased out after exit. New entrants will be able to seek recognition of their qualifications and be admitted to the UK profession in the same way as third-country lawyers. There will be a transitional framework until 31 December 2020 for EEA lawyers and business owners to transfer their qualifications or adapt their business model.'

  • She said that beyond negotiating with the EU, the government is working with the sector to 'ensure the continued pre-eminence of UK legal services and English law.'

Further contributions

  • Chair of the Justice Select Committee, Bob Neill MP (Conservative) welcomed the APPGs report, and noted the report of the Justice Select Committee and their report on the implications of Brexit for the justice system. He said that the two reports are consistent. He highlighted the mutual enforceability of judgments in family law cases across the EU. He raised concerns about the uncertainty of Brexit and the potential of a no deal scenario and the impact that it is having on the legal sector. He said he will back the withdrawal agreement as it will move us into the transitional period. He shared his hope that the political declaration will make specific reference to legal services.

  • Shadow Justice Minister, Yasmin Qureshi MP (Labour) welcomed the report and the opportunity to debate it. She noted that Brexit will be the largest ever change to the UK's legal framework. She said that regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, we need to ensure that citizens and businesses in the UK continue to have certainty about access to justice in civil, commercial, consumer and family law matters. She criticised the withdrawal agreement and outline political declaration for failing to provide the detail that the sector requires.

  • Gavin Newlands MP (SNP) noted that Brexit has the capacity to complicate and disrupt every aspect of our lives, and throughout legal services. He raised concerns about a 'blindfold Brexit', in which the UK has no clarity on what future arrangements will look like. He echoed concerns raised about the mutual recognition and reciprocal arrangements for professional qualifications, the lawyers service directive and the lawyer's establishment directive.

  • John Howell MP (Conservative) spoke about international arbitration and alternative dispute resolution. He highlighted the commercial solutions being developed in Singapore for arbitration courts.
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