Confusion reigns supreme at The Economist in same week top judges stumble over ECJ plans
The Economist has treated readers to a whistlestop tour of Brexit’s impact on City law. Unfortunately the end destination is still very much unknown.
Though the magazine doesn’t tend to write regularly about law it has been hailed as an almost infallible source of wider commercial knowledge for law students and trainees. So, what’s its holy grail prediction for Brexit and the City branch of the legal profession?
Well, it doesn’t really have one.
The Brexit buzzwords of the piece are “uncertainty” and “unknown”, most notably in the context of clients’ response to our withdrawal from the EU but also for legal practice’s future relationship with Europe.
On the latter, the piece asks of lawyers’ ability to practice abroad: “How much of this will survive Brexit?”, but is unable to give an answer. It does say there is “concern” lawyers qualified only on home soil will be unable to enjoy legal privilege in EU cases, though the Bar Council and the Law Society has pushed hard for the mutual recognition of professional qualifications to be included in the exit deal. And then there’s this paragraph (which again concludes pretty much nothing):
“City lobbyists have warned that the popularity of English law could wane. But many of the reasons for its dominance, such as its reputation for fairness and its centuries of precedent, need not be affected by Brexit.”
Arguably even more confusion lies, according to The Economist article, in the Brexit fall-out for firms’ clients (banks, tech companies, financial services firms, big brands, etc). If Brexit limits these firms’ ability to trade and work on the continent, parts of the industry could relocate to Europe and take their big money deals with them.
But are these worries well-founded? Excerpts from the piece seem to provide little answer:
“Firms worry that Brexit might put a brake on dealmaking, reducing the amount of work for lawyers. But so far there is little sign of this.”
So, it seems all we’ve really learned is that Brexit might deprive British law firms, but it might not.
This fondness for questions over answers has come in the same week a quartet of the country’s top retired judges admitted they too weren’t all that sure about what’s next for Brexit and the law.
Former Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger, former Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, former European judge Sir Konrad Schiemann and former Supreme Court deputy president Lord Hope reunited at the House of Lords on Tuesday to give evidence on our future relationship with the European Court of Justice (ECJ). All nostalgia floated away when it became apparent even the cream of the retired judicial crop didn’t have answers to the very complex issues at hand.
The panel of judges were asked by the House of Lords’ EU Justice Sub Committee for their views on: the most workable alternative to direct ECJ influence over UK law; the possibilities of a new international court structure; the continuing relevance of instruments such as the European Arrest Warrant; and the future of the Brussels Regime (which enables citizens to obtain orders that are legally binding abroad). To which Thomas, the ex-head of the judiciary, said:
“Every question you’ve asked us is very complicated! Unless you think things through carefully… you pay for it very heavily in the end. The sort of questions you’re asking are the right questions… [But] the difficulty a committee like this faces is the time pressure, with only just over a year to go [until the two-year limit set by Article 50 expires].”