Chairman's Update - 30 June 2016

30 June 2016

Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimee Doerries QC: What now for the Bar post-EU Referendum result?


It is said that on Richard Nixon's historic visit to China in 1972 Nixon asked the Chinese premier Zhou En-Lai about the impact of the French revolution. He responded that  "it was too early to say". It is of course possible that something was lost in translation; it is possible that Zhou may have thought he was answering a question about the 1968 Paris riots, or that he was reflecting the longer term view that it is sometimes said the Chinese culture takes. In any event the exchange seems apposite to Brexit. It is on any analysis too early to say, and it may be that there was a degree of misunderstanding... the result of which will be with us for some time to come. Beyond the initial financial and political fall-out, the impact on the Bar and the wider legal sector is far from clear. 

On a very practical level, the Bar Standards Board, the Bar's regulator, said, in the context of practising rights, that there is "no immediate impact on anyone currently practising as a barrister in England and Wales or registered with us as a European lawyer. Barristers seeking to practise in the EU, or EU lawyers seeking to register with the Bar of England and Wales using their home title or to be admitted as barristers in England and Wales, remain subject to existing rules and procedures." 

Looking further ahead, the Bar cannot afford to be complacent, which is why the Bar Council is preparing for what the future might look like outside the European Union. I am setting up a working group to review the impact of Brexit on the Bar, on barristers, on the Bar Council and on the jurisdiction. We will seek to inform the public debate on the issues where they affect the profession, and our justice system. We will also seek, where possible, to provide practical advice to barristers. The ramifications are likely to be wide-ranging. For example, issues are likely to arise in relation to the extent to which we can practise outside England & Wales (both within Europe and also beyond where our rights stem from a European trade treaty),  in relation to the VAT position concerning European work, in relation to immigration issues and in relation to employee rights to mention but a few. There is also the question of who the Lord Chancellor will be, and also the need to ensure that the new Government is committed to our justice system, and funding publicly funded work. 

An initial analysis of the possible future landscape for the Bar, the legal sector and the wider economy was set out in our  pre-referendum position paper. This provides the new working group and the Bar Council with a useful starting point for considering the future. 

What is clear is the Bar's continued commitment to work together with our partners in Europe, even if the UK, in future, is no longer within the EU. The links which the Bar Council and the Bar have with lawyers and with Bar associations in Europe and around the rest of the world are more important than ever. We will look to maintain strong links for the profession in overseas markets and we will send a clear signal to our colleagues overseas that despite last week's referendum, the Bar of England & Wales remains open for business and a partner for other Bars around the world. This matters both for business and from a rule of law perspective. 

When the result was announced, the Chairman of the Bar Council's Young Barristers' Committee, Louisa Nye, was attending the AGM of European Young Bar Association (EYBA) in Dusseldorf where she sent a strong message that the YBC would continue to be a member of the EYBA and a partner on all matters relating to the Bar and justice in Europe. The incoming President of the EYBA, Daniela R. Alves Valdez, is a London lawyer and chairs the London Young Lawyers' Group (LYLG). This is an example of our ongoing presence on the European legal stage which will be essential in future. 

I too will continue to extol the strength of our profession to overseas markets and to nurture our close relations with our partners in European Bar associations. 

The long-term effect of Brexit on the legal services sector's contribution to the UK economy will depend significantly on the nature and terms of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU, and with other important markets. However, I am confident that London will remain a leading centre for international dispute resolution. The global legal services market has seen significant growth over the past decade as a result of increasing international trade and growth in developing economies. This has led to a growing demand for legal services. The UK currently has the largest share of the European legal services market. A substantial contribution to this is made by the continued demand by parties (from the EU and beyond) for the services UK professionals offer, both for transactional work, and, in the case of London in particular, as a venue for litigation and arbitration. 

The reputation of barristers, as well as the judiciary,  overseas, beyond the EU, is very high and I expect it will remain so in the years to come. The Bar Council, its international team and International Committee have worked hard, as have many barristers and chambers, to grow this reputation. We will continue this work. This commitment has contributed to at least 10 years of continuous growth in the international income of the Bar and in the number of barristers receiving instructions from abroad. There is no reason why this cannot continue if we continue to develop our international outlook and expertise. 

In the last few days since the referendum, the Bar welcomed a visit from the Malaysian Bar and COMBAR hosted a joint conference in the Temple with the Victorian Bar and Commercial Bar Association of Victoria. I visited Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to show our commitment to these Bars. We have a strong international programme lined up for the rest of the year, including a strong presence at the International Bar Association Annual Conference in Washington DC, the International Weekend for young lawyers,an international programme for the Opening of the Legal Year, seminars with the German and Polish professions, the Anglo-Dutch Exchange, and Russian Law Week in London. In addition, we will continue to play as full a part as possible in the Council of European Bars and Law Societies and further develop our links with other international lawyers' organisations. This is vital for maintaining and extending the Bar of England & Wales' global reach. 

Closer to home, although the Government and Westminster appears to be facing a period of turbulence, the Bar Council, as the representative body for barristers in England & Wales, will continue its dialogue with the Ministry of Justice and Justice Secretary, as well as other departments on all matters affecting the Bar and justice. Issues such as the Investigatory Powers Bill, AGFS, the MoJ's proposals for criminal advocacy and the proposals from the judiciary concerning an online court and fixed fees continue to be high on our agenda. Just this week I gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee on legal regulation. 

Overall, the purpose of setting up a working group on the consequences of Brexit is to provide support for our members on the practical implications of leaving the EU and to maintain, even strengthen, our ties with European and other jurisdictions. We will ensure, with the help of the Circuits and the specialist bar associations, that the Bar's transition into any post-Brexit world is achieved with the least disruption to our profession and with as little impact as possible on the Bar's global reputation.