The government has been urged to take urgent action to support the primacy of English law and secure access to European markets, including by acceding to conventions allowing for enforcement and recognition of judgments.

In a strongly worded warning, Miles Celic, chief executive of professional services lobby group TheCityUK, said the government should put commitments to maintain judicial cooperation with the EU ‘into action’ and warned that Brexit could threaten the primacy of UK law and ability for UK practitioners to serve global clients.

In its annual legal services report, published today, the group says the UK’s legal services sector is the most ‘internationalised’ in the world and is surpassed only by the US in fee-revenue generated.

It says the government should do ’everything it can’ to make sure Brexit does not act as a barrier to future growth opportunities but as a stimulant. This should include mapping out the process of accession to the Hague and Lugano Conventions - which allow for a choice of court agreement between parties and enforcement of judgments respectively - as soon as possible.

Gary Campkin, director, policy & strategy, TheCityUK, said: ‘English law and the UK-based legal services sector are a vital national asset and will be critical to Britain’s success post-Brexit. We urge the government to take every possible step to deliver the right Brexit deal to enable the sector to maintain and enhance its contribution to future economic growth. TheCityUK strongly supports the UK government’s intention to maintain close judicial cooperation with the EU on civil matters. It should now put these commitments into action as soon as possible.’

The report, ‘Legal Excellence, internationally renowned: UK legal services 2017’, said the popularity of English law is a key contributing factor to the UK’s strong global position. English law is used in 40% of all global corporate arbitrations and 27% of the world’s 320 legal jurisdictions are based on English common law, the report said.

Revenue generated by legal activities was £31.5bn in 2016 and the top 100 UK law firms generated more than £22bn in 2016/17, it added.

For the first time the report has detailed contribution to the sector by geographical area, regions and cities.

Although London is still the largest centre with 100,000 people employed in the sector, generating a turnover of £8.5 billion, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and Birmingham also performed strongly. 

The figures, for 2015, show Manchester's legal sector employed 12,000 people generating £291 million while in Birmingham 8,000 legal services employees generated £321m.

The report noted that several major firms had established operations outside London including Allen & Overy, Baker McKenzie and Herbert Smith Freehills in Belfast; Hogan Lovells in Birmingham and Berwin Leighton Paisner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Latham & Watkins in Manchester.

The full report will be published at an event today with the lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice, David Lidington MP and Lord Burnett of Maldon, lord chief justice.