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Top judge says legal profession will ‘struggle’ to retain global status in post-Leave vote era

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Lord Chief Justice to lawyers: hard work is on the way

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The Lord Chief Justice has warned lawyers against complacency this week admitting the legal profession will have to “work hard” to hold onto its ‘best in the world’ status.

Taking questions at a press conference yesterday, head of the judiciary, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, was asked whether he was “confident” English law could retain its position as the “number one in the world”, particularly in the wake of the vote for Brexit. To this, the top judge said:

We shall have a struggle, I have got no doubt, Brexit or no Brexit. I don’t think Brexit is terribly relevant to that. We just must make certain that we retain our position.

To do this, it is vital the profession is not complacent. Speaking at the Royal Courts of Justice — the same place Lord Thomas gave his controversial Brexit judicial review judgment just weeks ago — the top judge was at pains to point out:

[W]e must not ignore what is quite strong competition now from overseas.

He also said the profession needs “a clear strategy” as to what it wants to achieve, and that the courts must “remain attractive” and willing to adapt to changing times.

With challenges aplenty, is the Lord Chief Justice confident the profession can keep hold of its status? To this he said:

I think to say that one was confident might give the air that one felt, well, we need not bother. I am confident we can if we work hard enough but work it will require. Complacency would be a very, very bad thing to field, that that was my attitude or anyone’s attitude.

Elsewhere in the press conference, Lord Thomas was asked about the “unprecedented criticism” the judiciary has been faced with off the back of the Miller judgment. In response to this media furore, the leading judge said:

I think that our independence is paramount. We are an attractive jurisdiction because everyone knows, not only are the judges the best or amongst the best in the world but that we are totally uninfluenced by external events.

He would not, however, discuss his views on Brexit more generally, because “this is not a matter the judiciary can comment on”.

Legal Cheek’s event at Herbert Smith Freehills on global commercial litigation and international arbitration is happening on Monday.