Sir Oliver Heald: The opportunities ahead for the legal system as Brexit fast approaches
Britain’s legal sector is world class – if we get it right on Brexit we can build on this great success story, writes Sir Oliver Heald
The UK has the best legal system and is able to compete internationally, as we show every day across the world. There are opportunities ahead as we approach Brexit. Our legal systems are the world’s most supportive for business and seamlessly support trade and investment worldwide. We can – and should – look to expand.
Of course, the Brexit negotiations are important to the UK legal sector, because the systems of civil judicial cooperation built up by the EU have enabled streamlined procedures, which benefit families, individuals and businesses, and clearly define in which country a case should be brought, what law applies and deal with recognition of judgments and enforcement.
It was also good to hear that David Davis is pressing for mutual recognition of qualifications.
The government has outlined its ambition to negotiate successfully a new post-Brexit framework for civil judicial cooperation, building on our unprecedented close integration, underpinned by our long history of cooperation in this field.
Current systems help our EU partners, too, and thousands of EU corporations have a place of business in the UK. Companies across the EU choose to use English law to govern their affairs and it is the most popular contract law used for conducting international transactions. English law governs around 40% of global commercial arbitrations.
There is every reason to think that an agreement on civil judicial cooperation which reflects closely the substantive principles of cooperation under the current EU framework is in the interests of all. As we legislate for our withdrawal from the EU, government intends to incorporate into domestic law the Rome I and II instruments on choice of law and applicable law in contractual and non-contractual matters. This will provide a coherent legal framework for UK and EU businesses to trade and invest with confidence across borders. So, Britain is keen to reach an agreement with the EU.
We do have opportunities ahead to build on the great success of the legal services sector, already worth well over £20bn annually and contributing over £4bn in exports. Some 300,000 people work in law with over 200 foreign law firms here. English law is the global commercial law of choice, renowned worldwide for straightforward and fair dispute resolution.
British people are outward looking. After Brexit, the United Kingdom will be spurred to increase international civil judicial cooperation with third parties through the Hague Conference on Private International Law and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. We will continue in these bodies and to participate in Hague conventions to which we are already a party and those which we currently participate in via membership of the EU, including the Lugano convention with Norway, Iceland and Switzerland.
And of course, there are other attractions to Britain: a skilled and diverse workforce, good international transport, global access to markets, close proximity to large clients and a deep pool of technical talent.
English is the international language of commerce and our time zone enables the working day to overlap with key international trade markets in Asia, Africa and the Americas
All companies know that they will be judged by clear rules applied in accordance with the law by our superb and incorruptible judges. This is important for foreign companies. The advantage of investing in Britain is that you will be treated fairly. Foreign companies come to Britain, bringing with them jobs and investment, because we are a stable place to do business.
Our commitment to the rule of law is vital to this reputation. Since Magna Carta everybody, including the monarch, is subject to the law. Famously, the 39th clause gave all ‘free men’ the right to justice and a fair trial. The enormous importance of Magna Carta and its influence is in little doubt with its core principles echoed in the United States Bill of Rights.
UK law firms and lawyers can, and will, develop the business opportunities created by their world-class reputation, as Britain promotes its values and the rule of law around the world with renewed vigour.
Sir Oliver Heald QC is Conservative MP for North East Hertfordshire and was Solicitor General 2012-14 and Minister for Courts and Justice 2016-17