The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was unable to say today whether ‘any sort of deal’ with the EU would be more beneficial than the status quo for the legal services sector post-Brexit, as leaders of the Law Society and the bar warned that mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments should be key components of any deal.
Giving evidence before the House of Commons Justice Committee Lucy Frazer QC, parliamentary under-secretary of state for justice, said the department is ‘working towards’ a deal.
However, when asked by committee chairman Bob Neill whether any of the deals would be a better scenario than what we have now, Frazer declined to answer directly. She conceded however that the current relationship was ‘much more advanced’. ‘On the surface, we have to accept that we will be leaving the single market but we want a deal that is as close as possible to what we have now.’
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) on legal cooperation recently signed with India was highlighted as an area of progress. However, when questioned by Neill what the MoU will actually do (including allowing UK lawyers to practise in India), Frazer was unable to answer, instead indicating that she would write a letter outlining its terms.
Earlier on in the session, Andrew Walker QC, chair of the Bar, told MPs that membership of the EU had not stopped firms opening new offices or prevented lawyers from trying to break into new markets. He added that India was a ‘notoriously difficult’ market and that UK lawyers had been trying to access it for years.
On mutual recognition Frazer said the government was working on implementing the Lugano Convention and had signed up to Rome I and II regulations.
Asked by MPs if she had noticed signs of uncertainty in the market, Clifford Chance partner Kate Gibbons said clients were more likely to ‘take a deep breath’ before deciding to go with English law and although they are ‘largely still going for it’ the longer there is uncertainty about recognition of judgments the more uncertainty there will be.
Law Society vice-president Simon Davis meanwhile warned that jurisdictions offering English law as a choice are becoming competitors. ‘If a jurisdiction has top class judges and accessible law, people will go there. We have already seen competition from Singapore and New York, to name but two,’ Davis said.