Should EU law remain compulsory for aspiring solicitors, asks Matthew Allan
Since before the outcome of the EU referendum was known, the Law Society, and its Junior Lawyers Division, have been fielding students’ questions about the future of legal studies in the event of a ‘leave’ result.
Students have since become increasingly agitated by the uncertainty and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has sought to steady the ship in these rough waters. It confirmed: ‘Neither the SRA nor the BSB will be making any change to the academic requirements in relation to EU law for either the qualifying law degree or common professional examination for the coming academic year [2016/17]. And the SRA will be making no change to its requirements for the legal practice course for the coming academic year.’
And so, for the time being, law students will continue to study a branch of law that they may believe became irrelevant overnight.
Beyond tantalising case law relating to bananas, cats, and such liquid delights as Cassis de Dijon, ‘EU law’ also tackles the heavy issues, as demonstrated by the weighty-sounding Reprographic Machinery case or Statistical Levy case. Apart from schadenfreude brought on by knowing law students must continue to learn these cases, there is more for them to gain from developing this breadth of knowledge.
Such cases have influenced, hence become part of, our own common law tradition. Beyond whether an EU regulation has been incorporated into UK law or if a directive has ‘horizontal direct effect’, the impact of EU case law over decades will invariably warrant a deeper understanding. But do tomorrow’s solicitors really need to know their TEU from their TFEU? In short, yes.
Not only have the treaties of the EU contributed towards the UK’s own constitutional development by building on the judicial and legislative checks and balances that underpin our democracy, but their impact is bigger than just the UK.
Solicitors cannot afford to become blinkered by the borders of England and Wales. In the as-yet-to-be-defined future that law students will practice in, an awareness of the outside world will prove invaluable, perhaps to even rival the currently lauded ‘commercial awareness’. We have all been promised that exciting new markets will open up and that trade will thrive. Knowledge of how laws have been built and developed in a complex multi-state framework will surely only prove to be a benefit.
This cosmopolitan view only goes so far in demonstrating the value of continuing to study EU law. A pragmatist may point to areas like human rights, environmental regimes, and the regulation of competition, which will likely continue to be directly applicable here. Not to mention the free movement of goods and people that will have a lasting impact on how the UK works and trades post-Brexit.
So, despite the uncertainty, students shouldn’t rush to bin EU law. If the tension gets too much, you can at least relax with a refreshing pint of Cassis de Dijon.
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 20 September 2016 and is reproduced by kind permission.