Plans to create a new framework for recognising overseas qualifications could damage the autonomy of the legal profession and impact UK lawyers looking to re-qualify abroad, the Bar Council has warned.

In a briefing issued this month, the Bar Council said the Professional Qualifications Bill subjects regulators’ admission powers to an economic test of unmet need. The bill is currently at committee stage in the Lords and is due to replace the EU’s mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive (MRPQ).

‘Clause 2 subjects the power to make regulations under clause 1 to an “unmet demand” test,’ the Bar Council told peers. ‘While economic need, in some form or another, may well be treated as a condition for market access or entry to the territory by overseas professionals, treating it as a requirement to be met before a person who is otherwise sufficiently qualified/experienced…can be admitted to the national profession is inimical to the concept of MRPQ.’

The council said the government has offered ‘insufficient justification’ for the measure, which could ‘negatively affect professional autonomy through an unintended effect on the scope of pre-existing regulatory powers to recognise overseas qualifications’. It recommended the introduction of a simple amendment to clarify the position.

‘Constraints on the scope for inbound professionals re-qualifying with a UK title would undoubtedly have consequences for outbound UK professionals seeking to re-qualify in an overseas jurisdiction,’ it added.

Last month, the Law Society warned that the new framework could lead other bars to challenge the independence of the legal profession, affecting UK lawyers practising abroad. However, it said this was unlikely as clauses one and two of the bill - which allow Westminster and devolved governments to let professionals with a foreign qualification practise in the UK as part of certain regulated professions in case of a shortage – are unlikely to be applied to legal services.