Our joint event started by signing a Memorandum of Understanding by Mr Pascal Eydoux, President of the French National Bar Council (CNB) and Mr Jonathan Smithers, President of The Law Society of England and Wales. Both parties committed to strenghening the rule of law, defending human rights and ensuring access to justice.

The Presidents highlighted the importance of legal professional privilege. President Eydoux, in his opening keynote, said that the “recent terror attacks in France and Belgium are source of increasing concern and our freedoms are jeopardised for both European citizens and European lawyers, whose professional secrecy seems to be being called into question.” President Eydoux’s full speech in English is attached to this article.

With these opening remarks in mind, the first panel discussion discussed ’surveillance of communications and its impact on the principle of lawyer - client confidentiality’ in the UK and France. The session was chaired by President Smithers. The audience had a chance to hear about examples of privilege coming under attack from both governments. French panellist, Florent Loyseau de Grandmaison, vice-president of the CNB human rights and civil liberties committee, said that lawyer-client confidentiality had melted down and the security services are allowed to listen to communications without any prior notification. Colin Passmore, senior partner at international firm Simmons & Simmons, said that the UK’s investigatory powers bill - currently before parliament - would expressly permitt breaches of professional privilege.

During the second panel discussion - chaired by Tony Fisher, Senior Partner, Fisher, Jones, Greenwood Solicitors and Chair of the Human Rights Committee  at the Law Society - speakers from both jurisdictions explained the most recent developments in business and human rights and how they implement elements of the UN Guiding Principles. The law would be passed in France in June and would require companies employing more than 5,000 people to show they have audited their suppliers for safety risks - said Philippe-Henri Dutheil, Chairman of the European and International Affairs Committee, CNB and Anne Vaucher, Chair of the Human Right Commission of the CNB. Jonathan Smithers stressed that “the main effect of the treaty would be that all business operations in the supply chain would be subject to the rule of law.” President Smithers’ notes are attachted to the article. 

The event was exceptionally well attended by the 127 delegates of French advocates, English & Welsh solicitors, barristers, legal professionals and law students throughout. The audience were interested and engaged in the entire afternoon and had plenty of questions to the panellist and presenters. . 

Following the seminar, the delegates attended a wine and cheese reception where they had further opportunity to build new links and strengthen existing ones.