The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has indicated it will press on with plans to remove exemptions afforded solely to EU lawyers when they apply to qualify in England and Wales if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

The SRA said today that World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules – which would apply if the UK leaves the EU without a deal - would not allow EU lawyers to receive preferential treatment. 

EU lawyers are currently able to apply for exemptions on a topic by topic basis from the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS), which all foreign-qualified lawyers must sit to qualify in England and Wales. 

However, the SRA said that in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit - which remains the default legal position unless a withdrawal agreement is secured - this system would have to change.

The regulator, which consulted on its proposed approach in December last year, said it is proposing that exemptions be extended to all foreign lawyers but that these would be offered only if they cover the entirety of the QLTS and not on a topic by topic basis. 

Chancery Lane has spoken out against plans to remove exemptions entirely warning of creating an ‘unnecessary barrier to qualification’ which could make England and Wales a less attractive jurisdiction and imperil its position as Europe’s largest legal market.

Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said today that Chancery Lane agrees on the need to change the rules in the event of a no-deal Brexit. 'It is important to stress, however, that the jurisdiction of England and Wales remains open to EU as well as non-EU lawyers and that requalifying as a solicitor of England and Wales is a passport to international legal practice for many foreign lawyers.’

SRA chief executive Paul Philip, said: ‘Whatever the outcome of the negotiations, it is important that we are prepared to make sure the transition to any new arrangements takes place as seamlessly as possible, with as little disruption as possible for the profession or the public who need their services.’