Jonathan Goldsmith

Jonathan Goldsmith

Whatever has happened to the Ministry of Justice’s Legal Services are GREAT campaign? It was launched with great fanfare in 2017, as part of the government’s push to let the world know that, after the Brexit vote, we are a global-facing country.

There have been since then some rather low level campaigns in various parts of the world to push UK legal services. But similar efforts have taken place for decades, and these new campaigns showed no particular energy, imagination, resources – or indeed urgency – to reflect that they are part of a new initiative.

It is worth repeating the MoJ’s justification for launching the GREAT initiative in the first place. Having mentioned legal certainty, respect for the rule of law, a common law system, and reliable recourse to the judiciary as the underpinning factors of our legal system, the launch speech said: ‘the UK is – and will continue to be – one of the pre-eminent legal centres in the world; we will continue to be a leading player in that premier league of international legal centres.’

There is a difference between the promotion of our lawyers’ services abroad - which the Department of International Trade, supported by the MoJ, does very ably and consistently, for instance through the post-Brexit trade deals which are now being negotiated with a range of countries – and the promotion of our legal system as a whole, as a support for our economic life.

The MoJ should consider our legal system as one of its crown jewels, the centrepiece of every relevant initiative.

I was reminded of the GREAT campaign, and its relationship to other MoJ initiatives, when reading the consultation which the MoJ issued on 2 July on the question of whether and to what extent courts other than the Supreme Court should be able to depart from retained EU law.

(Given the importance of this question, the 6 weeks’ response time over summer - it closes on 13 August - does not indicate that the government is really serious in hearing others’ considered views. We are now, after all, over four years from the referendum result. But that is another matter.)

The consultation is a good example of the potential conflict between the principles underlying the GREAT campaign and the implementation of other government policies, in this case Brexit.

So, from the point of view of the GREAT campaign, it seems obvious that certainty in the law is one of our chief attractions, which doubtless encourages businesses and individuals from around the world to use our legal system.

But from the point of view of implementing Brexit, throwing off of the shackles of the EU in all its forms, including the power of retained EU law to bind us after Brexit, is a long-sought prize.

How are these two to be reconciled? The Supreme Court already has the power to depart from retained EU law through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. But which additional courts should be given similar power? The certainty which benefits the GREAT campaign would argue that the number of additional courts should be restricted, maybe even to the Supreme Court alone as now.

But the government thinks differently (according to the opinion it gives in the consultation). It thinks it is desirable to extend the power to depart from retained EU case law to additional courts and tribunals. It gives two options: to extend it to Court of Appeal level, or to High Court level, there being other courts in the three jurisdictions of the UK which fall within each category.

The word ‘international’ barely appears in the consultation, and the GREAT campaign not at all. There are a couple of sentence about the impact on the UK’s international reputation as an attractive forum in which to do business and settle disputes, repeated in the conclusion. But this consideration is not front and centre, and not even a significant argument overall.

I repeat: what has happened to the Legal Services are GREAT campaign?

I am not the only one who is worried. There was a letter just a couple of weeks ago in the Financial Times from Guy Beringer (former senior partner of Allen & Overy) and Dame Elizabeth Gloster (former Court of Appeal judge) pointing out the lack of investment in the brand of English law, and the justice system which underpins it, both of which are a foundation for the UK’s attraction as a destination for inward investment.

Our Lord Chancellor voted Remain in 2016, and yet is part of the Cabinet. This either shows big-tent politics or – given the recent list of peerages – that justice is not considered a serious part of post-Brexit Britain’s international standing.

What must we do to persuade the government to restart the Legal Services are GREAT campaign with energy and resources?

Jonathan Goldsmith is Law Society Council member for EU matters and a former secretary general of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe. All views expressed are personal and are not made in his capacity as a  Law Society Council member nor on behalf of the Law Society