Leaving the EU: Legal Services

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:26 pm on 21st November 2018.

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Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Conservative, Huntingdon 4:26 pm, 21st November 2018

As ever, my hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. Avoiding a no-deal scenario and securing the right future relationship with the European Union is of the utmost importance. The APPG supports the view of the legal services sector that a no-deal scenario would be devastating to the sector and should be avoided at all costs. Of course, there have been significant recent developments. Last week, on 14 November, the Cabinet collectively agreed to the draft withdrawal agreement and the political statement on the future relationship. Following a special European Council meeting on 25 November, the Government intend to lay a final version of the agreement before Parliament for debate.

It needs to be recognised that the draft withdrawal agreement contains a number of positive elements for the legal services sector, including provisions on mutual recognition of professional qualifications and on lawyers continuing to obtain qualifications throughout the transition period, and clarity on continued recognition and enforcement of judgments and orders throughout that period. Lawyers will continue to have the right to represent a party in proceedings before the CJEU in all stages of proceedings where a case can be brought by or against the UK. The automatic transfer of an EU intellectual property right into an equivalent UK right before the end of the transition period is very welcome.

The non-legally binding declaration, however, is a work in progress. To be frank, it is worryingly brief and it is vague on services, especially legal services. The relevant part of the political declaration explains that the goal is to secure

“Ambitious, comprehensive and balanced arrangements on trade in services and investment, delivering a level of liberalisation in trade in services well beyond the Parties’ WTO commitments”.

It says that the Government will put in place

“Appropriate arrangements on professional qualifications.”

I have to say that this is pretty sketchy stuff, and so we continue to have concerns about the lack of detail contained within the political declaration between the UK and the EU.

First, it is pretty unambitious for the UK-EU agreement to say only that it will go “well beyond” the parties’ World Trade Organisation commitments, and it is likely to lead to significantly less market access for services. Secondly, like with the Government’s White Paper, there are concerns about the continued focus on regulatory flexibility, as I mentioned before. The preservation of the present system, whereby lawyers from EU member states, EEA states and Switzerland can practise freely across the continent, should be prioritised instead. Thirdly, it is good to see a reference to professional qualifications, but that only goes some way towards giving lawyers the ability to practise in the EU, and generally it is not their preferred route.

Fourthly, it is disappointing not to see a reference either to civil or commercial co-operation, unlike in the Government’s White Paper. The UK and the EU currently enjoy the gold standard in civil and judicial co-operation, which should continue. Fifthly, without an agreement on judicial co-operation, judgments made in UK courts might be unenforceable in EU countries in the cross-border settlement of trade disputes, which might result, for instance, in debts owed by EU entities to UK businesses not being recovered. It follows that uncertainty about whether judgments from UK courts would be enforced could make the UK less appealing as a jurisdiction of choice for contracts and dispute resolution, which would lead to the growth of competing jurisdictions.