It is a strange paradox that as the world becomes more globalised, our attention is drawn more to the local, as if we are incapable of encompassing a span that takes in the whole world. As a result, developments which take place at inter-governmental organisations – in some strange city, with strange initials for the title of the organisation – barely find an echo in legal news reports. Yet global developments, as we know very well from constant practical applications in our own lives, have the habit of eventually encroaching on the local. I shall give the examples of just three inter-governmental bodies undertaking work at present with interest or application to UK lawyers.

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is the inter-governmental body that established the anti-money laundering standards which impact on every solicitor’s practice. It had a two-day meeting last week at its headquarters in Paris on a review of the recommendations which led to the money laundering legislation in the first place. It is looking at areas such as the risk-based approach, customer due diligence and reliance on third parties. To represent the millions of lawyers in the world, there were seven lawyers present – from the International Bar Association, the CCBE, the American Bar Association and the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. However, since this is a public consultation, you can send in your own views by 7 January to FATF through the link given above.

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) is about to launch an initiative on the establishment of legal standards for online dispute resolution. The first meeting will take place over five days in mid-December in Vienna, and the agenda and a supporting paper are available on its website. UNCITRAL is concerned that there is a growing number of regional initiatives on online dispute resolution, and that they might overlap and conflict – hence a global solution becomes desirable. It is generally agreed that courts have a hard time dealing with these cases because: they involve multiple jurisdictions; they are often of small value; litigation is expensive; and it is difficult to enforce foreign judgments. This is not a public consultation, but the CCBE has observer status on the working group.

(By the way, if we need to be persuaded about the benefits and difficulties of e-commerce, they become obvious in a fascinating study published last year by the European Commission called Mystery shopping evaluation of cross-border e-commerce in the EU. The figures show that some consumers, particularly from smaller or poorer member states, found a majority of cross-border offers were at least 10% cheaper – and sometimes they could only find a particular product online through a cross-border offer. Yet consumers in a majority of cross-border cases could not place an order, for instance because their country did not appear in a drop-down list or shipping was not available to that country. That is why EU institutions are not only promoting cross-border commerce, but encouraging greater online dispute resolution as an accompaniment. It forms a European backdrop to the work UNCITRAL will undertake.)

And finally there is the Council of Europe, where again the CCBE has observer status on its European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ). It produces a regular and very worthwhile report on European judicial systems – the 2010 edition is now ready. It contains comparative tables and comments in areas such as: public expenditure devoted to the judicial system; the legal aid system; mediation; organisation of jurisdictions and the court network; judicial staff; case-flow management in courts; and length of procedures. If you study it, you will be able to judge for yourself the generosity of the UK government in relation to its expenditure on justice issues, in comparison with other European countries.

Obviously, the very nature of inter-governmental bodies is that their membership is composed of governments, and so lawyers’ organisations are usually invited to participate as observers. I should stress that we are delighted and privileged to be invited to attend at all. But sometimes the work is difficult to follow, for instance because the meetings last a whole week – which might be easy for civil servants, but not so easy for practising lawyers or busy NGOs. The resources which the member governments bring to the work far outweighs that which lawyers can bring.

Nevertheless, we should keep an eye on the work of such organisations, whatever the difficulties. One day their conclusions will flow down to our practices at local level.

Jonathan Goldsmith is the secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), which represents over 700,000 European lawyers through its member bars and law societies

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