The Brexit agreement, greeted by lawyers with “sighs of relief”, had led to a “much more clunky world” for legal services, with important issues like privilege unresolved, the president of the Law Society of England and Wales said yesterday.
David Greene said UK remained “very open”, and a debate over whether to “close the system” as a negotiating tool had ended with the idea being rejected.
Speaking at a joint briefing with Amanda Millar and Rowan White, his counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively, Mr Greene said the Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA), reached at the end of last year, was greeted by lawyers with “sighs of relief”.
There was optimism because it included a chapter on legal services, and the principles provided a “basis for co-operation”, he said, but the true picture was “very much obscured” by the importance of domestic legislation in EU member states.
Mr Greene added that Brexit had presented everyone with a “much more clunky world” and problems like privilege had not been resolved.
The large UK law firms had found solutions “over the last few years” since the Brexit referendum on how their EU offices should be set up, but smaller firms were still working on it.
He said that, although co-operation on criminal justice was included in the TCA, co-operation on civil justice was not and the Law Society would be pushing for access to the Lugano convention on jurisdiction in civil disputes and enforcement of judgments.
Mr White described the Lugano convention as the “top priority” for Northern Ireland.
Helena Raulus, head of the Joint UK Law Societies Office in Brussels, which organised the briefing, said the UK applied to join the Lugano convention in April 2020 and EU countries had said they would support it, but everyone was waiting for the EU to publish its opinion.
Mr Greene said his “growing concern” was that the EU would use Lugano as a “negotiating tool, a political tool” and it was 50/50 as to whether the EU would allow the UK to accede.
Mr Greene said England and Wales would remain a “very open jurisdiction” in terms of EU lawyers practising from here.
However, reciprocity with other countries was “often an issue” and there had been a debate over whether the UK should “close the system” as a negotiating tool.
Mr Greene said “the answer was no” because the UK wanted to remain a global legal centre.
He said the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) could have an effect on reciprocity – “One or two jurisdictions have been saying: ‘What about the SQE? How does that effect reciprocity?” – but it was “too early to say” at the moment.
Mr Greene said the Law Society would need the co-operation of the Solicitors Regulation Authority on mutual recognition of practising rights and would “press for an open profession”.
Mr White said the Law Society of Northern Ireland had entered into a mutual recognition agreement with the Law Society of Ireland in May last year – its main concern in terms of reciprocity.
Ms Millar said Scotland, like England and Wales, saw itself as an “open jurisdiction” and expected that to continue. She said any problems experienced by members were being dealt with on a case-by-case basis.