Bar helping to fuel UK economy and puts 'Global Britain' in its sights

Posted On: 
29th November 2018

Bar leaders warn that Government backing and tough negotiation will be needed to help maintain a truly ‘Global Britain’ post-Brexit.

The value and volume of the Bar’s international work continue to show year on year growth, according to figures released today.

But as its international work continues to bring in export earnings, and to reinforce the strong reputation of British legal services worldwide, Bar leaders warn that Government backing and tough negotiation will be needed to help maintain a truly ‘Global Britain’ post-Brexit.

Bar Council figures released today show:

  • International earnings of the Bar are £322 million in 2017, up from £291 million in 2016
  • The number of barristers undertaking international work has increased to 1,790.

This is just a part of a huge volume of other work with an international dimension done by barristers, both in England and Wales and overseas.

TheCityUK also reported today that the legal services sector contributed £26bn to the UK economy in 2016 - equivalent to 1.4% of GVA - and posted a trade surplus of £4.4bn in 2017, up from £4bn in 2016.

Despite the good news, Bar leaders warned that citizens and small businesses will not get the best out of Brexit unless UK and EU lawyers have cross-border practice rights, there are mutual rules applying to jurisdiction and judgments between the UK and the EU, and the Government supports the justice system at the level needed to preserve the UK’s reputation and standing abroad.

Chair of the Bar Andrew Walker QC said: “The international work of the Bar provides much-needed fuel for the British economy and legal sector, but if the UK is to fulfil its post-Brexit trade ambitions, legal professionals must be able to deliver their international services effectively and competitively both in new markets and in the EU. Not only does the legal services sector earn significant revenues of its own, the cluster of professional services that it supports and the trade they attract makes a huge contribution to UK GDP.

“But a successful Brexit is about much more than that. Our future health and prosperity as a nation depends on a host of other measures too.  Our businesses must have confidence that their suppliers and customers will honour their contractual obligations, or face effective legal action. Our citizens must have ready access to courts and compensation, and to help from our own lawyers, when goods they buy from Europe go wrong or they fall ill or are injured anywhere in Europe.  We also need courts in the UK and Europe to be able to cooperate in protecting children when families fall apart.

“Mutual rules on jurisdiction and judgments between the UK and the EU, and on market access for lawyers, are not part of the current Political Declaration, yet they are vital if small UK firms are to stand a chance of trading successfully with the EU, and if our citizens’ rights are not to be undermined. We urge the Government to prioritise a deal on these points during any transition period.

“Even if the current deal is approved by Parliament, significant risks and challenges lie ahead for the legal sector.  Our courts and lawyers remain powerhouses on the international stage, and the UK is still the world’s number one legal centre, but the competition from Singapore and New York, and of course from Europe, cannot be ignored, and we need to end the ongoing uncertainty which is leading some clients to rely on other countries’ laws in their contracts.

“We must also not forget that, if we are to continue to maintain our reputation for the quality of our justice and rule of law, we must be able to be proud of our whole system.  We cannot afford half measures: the Government must be willing to invest in justice, to stand up for the rule of law, and to be seen as world leader in both respects.”