A UK exit from the EU would risk ‘disruption and confusion’ in family law, at a time when family courts would find it difficult to cope, a report from the Bar Council claims.

The Bar Council has published a ‘neutral’ report analysing the legal and constitutional implications of Britain leaving the EU and examining the laws which could be affected by the EU referendum.

The report says that EU measures have had a significant beneficial impact on family law, an impact which is still growing. These include having uniform jurisdictional rules for divorce proceedings through Brussels IIa and maintenance proceedings through the Maintenance Regulation.

It said that although neither measure is perfect, ‘a major change or even withdrawal from these EU instruments would, in our view, bring disruption and confusion’.

The report continued: ‘It would be particularly difficult for the English family courts to cope with, at a time when (a) legal aid has been greatly reduced in this field and many more litigants are not legally represented; and (b) the family courts are undergoing and/or adjusting to major structural changes.’

But it said that while it endorses the bulk of the measures adopted relating to family law, this does not mean it has no concerns about individual measures.

The bar report also said it is likely that Brexit would make London a less attractive venue of choice for commercial dispute resolution.

It said: ‘Until equivalent arrangements had been negotiated – in itself a challenging task – there would be a period of uncertainty about the jurisdiction and enforcement regimes applicable as between the UK and EU member states.’ 

The bar said this would generate additional litigation, which would benefit lawyers in the short term, but would bring additional costs and delay to their clients.

The report also warned that Brexit could also affect the ability of UK citizens and businesses to enforce English and Welsh judgments abroad and vice versa. It said the outcome could have consequences for the attractiveness of the UK as a jurisdiction of choice for 'third country businesses'.

It said this would also apply to non-commercial cases, such as personal injury judgements against insurers or defendants in other EU member states.

The Bar Council report follows a study by the Law Society on the impact of Brexit on the legal profession. The report claimed that Brexit would be disproportionately harmful to legal services.