British lawyers had cause to wince recently when Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, offered a view on mutual recognition of commercial and civil court rulings after the transition period. ‘Do we really want the UK to remain a centre for commercial litigation for the EU, when we could attract these services here?’, he told the bloc.
Given London’s pre-eminence within Europe as a global legal services hub, this a tough argument for Britain to counter as talks resume. After the absurd fandango which followed the 2016 Brexit poll, it is a tall order to convince Brussels that Britain should be helped to shore up a lucrative advantage in any sphere.
The same applies in financial services, incidentally – a sector where EU actors are just as weary of London’s exceptionalism.
And yet. There is hope. Notwithstanding Barnier’s hostility, signing up to the Lugano Convention does offer the realistic prospect of an (albeit imperfect) solution that would be of benefit to all signatories. So how can the continent be persuaded?
Chancery Lane is set to open a new front in its campaign by appealing to the EU 27 direct. It hopes to attract the support of trade bodies, consumer advocates and other stakeholders. This wisely moves the conversation on from brinkmanship over whose legal sector can best profit from the Brexit rupture, to the serious dilution of fundamental rights in areas such as employment and divorce.
As the Society stresses, losing the Lugano framework ‘opens the door for people in the UK or EU to try to take advantage of different legal systems to delay justice’ and ‘pushes litigation beyond reach of all but the deepest of pockets’.
Wealthy corporations and rich people will still be able to enforce their rights. Small businesses and ‘ordinary’ people? Not so much.
The next formal negotiating round between the UK and the EU on the future relationship agreement resumes in Brussels today. These talks encompass the equally pressing issue of cross-border practising rights. Many Gazette readers will not have the bandwidth to give all this their rapt attention right now. I understand that.
But there is no disputing how much is at stake.