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Brexit would trigger exodus of UK lawyers to re-qualify in Ireland, say experts

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It’d be the only way for British solicitors and barristers to do anything EU law-related at a decent level

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A vote to leave the EU would see barristers hopping over in droves to Ireland and other member states to re-qualify and keep a UK foot in the European Court of Justice door.

This was one of the most interesting predictions delivered at an anti-Brexit event held by pro-EU lawyers on Friday — and has sparked widespread chatter in legal London.

Indeed, those in the know have told Legal Cheek that some lawyers have already bagged Irish qualifications as a form of insurance in case Brexit happens.

One key problem that would be triggered by a vote to leave would be the continuing influence of UK lawyers on the EU institutions, or lack of. The 1950s Court of Justice was heavily inquisitorial in nature, but UK lawyers and judges have shaped its modern focus on precedent and oral tradition.

And, as pointed out at the anti-Brexit event on Friday by Freshfields partner John Davies, who is chairman of ‘Lawyers In For Britain’, there may well be an influx of barristers rushing overseas to re-qualify into other European jurisdictions, to make sure this continues to be the case.

Speaking to Legal Cheek after the event — which saw a report released detailing the “numerous benefits” of EU membership — Monckton Chambers barrister Anneli Howard explained that UK barristers, and UK judges for that matter, would not be able to take part in post-Brexit Court of Justice proceedings, leaving our potential influence on European law and precedent to fall by the wayside. This is because EU law states:

Only a lawyer authorised to practise before a court of a Member State or of another State which is a party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area may represent or assist a party before the Court [of Justice].

To side step this rule, there may well be a UK lawyer retraining exodus to Ireland — and other member state countries — to give stubborn Europhile barristers the chance to participate in Court of Justice case law.

But just how easy will it be for these EU-loving advocates to retrain?

It’s hard to say. Aside from the obvious expense and detriment to personal and family life that comes with moving abroad, Professor Steve Peers, speaking to Legal Cheek, threw another spanner in the works. He said:

After the Brexit date, it will remain to be seen whether UK lawyers will still be covered by the EU rules on this issue and therefore able to obtain Irish qualifications.

Peers explained that a barrister’s ability to re-qualify overseas depends on:

[W]hether the UK was still covered by this part of free movement law, although failing that it is possible that Ireland would take a liberal approach to allowing UK lawyers to qualify there as a matter of domestic law.

With that in mind, it looks likely a Brexit will lead to a swarm of barristers crossing the Channel to retrain. When we spoke to Sir Alan Dashwood QC, Henderson Chambers barrister, he even went as far as to say:

Certainly some practitioners will re-qualify — indeed I believe some have done so already, by way of insurance. That may work for individuals with established reputations. I don’t believe there would be much prospect for a young person starting at the bar in the UK to build up an EU practice post-withdrawal.

Nearly 300 lawyers are signatories to Lawyers In For Britain’s 66-page report, including Professor Paul Craig who, alongside Gráinne de Búrca, penned the law student bible EU Law, Text, Cases and Materials. They are opposed by the similarly-named ‘Lawyers for Britain’ pro-Brexit group, which is led by 8 New Square barrister Martin Howe QC.