On 27 October, Mickaël Laurans, Head of the UK Law Societies Brussels Office, gave evidence to the Housel of Lords’ EU Internal Market Sub-Committee.
The Lords sought to better understand the challenges posed by Brexit to the professional services sector and its future trading relationship with the EU. The other participants to the session included Sally Jones of Deloitte and James Kenny of Arup.
All witnesses agreed that the UK leaving the EU would have a substantial impact on their respective services sectors. This impact would differ depending on the sectors; in case of the legal profession, the regulation is different in each Member State and in addition, the legal systems of individual countries differ as well. The Lords were keen to hear about the economic impact of Brexit on professional services as well as the lessons that can be learnt from the current trade policy in forming a new relationship between the EU and the UK.
Mickaël clarified that, in case of the legal profession, the advantages of being part of the Single Market in services are considerable. Within the EU, individual solicitors and their law firms can provide services on a temporary basis and/or establish permanently in another Member State under their home title. They can provide advice on the law of England and Wales, EU law and international law but also on the law of the host state, under conditions of competency and with some very limited restrictions (e.g. in probate and conveyancing work in a number of jurisdictions). They can also appear in court in conjunction with a local lawyer.
Importantly, he noted, the UK’s EU membership guarantees the rights of audience in the EU courts for the UK solicitors and the respect for the legal professional privilege of lawyer-client communications. In some segments of the legal profession, these are the crucial practice rights and since the referendum’s result the Society has seen a number of English and Welsh solicitors requalify in Ireland or Belgium.
Should the UK leave the EU without securing a new agreement, the rules of the WTO would apply. However, the current WTO framework, based on the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) does not offer such generous market access as the current EU regime. Despite this, he continued to point out, the UK should remain open to third-country businesses and professionals, as it is the case now.
The EU referendum result has also cast some doubt on the future attractiveness of English courts as the jurisdiction of choice. He added that some legislative instruments, such as the Brussels I Regulation, make it possible to have the UK judgments recognised and enforced within the EU and their continuation would help maintain the attractiveness of England and Wales as jurisdiction of choice.
The oral evidence session is part of the Sub-Committee’s inquiry into future trade between the UK and the EU. Law Society of England and Wales submitted written evidence to the Sub-Committee earlier in October. It is part of the Law Society’s ongoing engagement strategy with the Government.