The Law Society of Scotland continues to inform and advise its members while also acting as a strong advocate for their interests in Edinburgh, London and Brussels.
Since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU took place, we have devoted considerable time and resource to producing detailed position papers and briefings about the latest Brexit developments and their impact on the law and legal profession in Scotland; as well as representing the interests of the profession in Scotland and their clients throughout the negotiations, while maintaining the impartial position that our members told us was the right line for us to take.
The Brexit section of our website highlights all of our latest briefings, responses and position papers on Brexit-related legislation and parliamentary inquiries, as well as information for our members on the latest developments.
In 2018 alone, we analysed, provided briefings and drafted amendments on 8 Brexit-related Bills; we responded to 32 parliamentary inquiries and gave evidence on at least 8 occasions in front of UK and Scottish parliamentary committees. These have covered topics including policing and security, international trade, competition, intellectual property, agriculture, healthcare and intra-UK governmental relations, to name only a few. We also set out and have stressed at every opportunity what we believe to be the principles that should underpin all aspects of the negotiations, namely:
- Ensuring stability in the law
- Maintaining freedom, security and justice
- Maintaining recognition and enforcement of citizens’ rights, including the rights of parties with pending cases before the Court of Justice of the EU
- Promoting immigration, residence, citizenship and employment rights of EU Nationals resident in the UK
- Taking account of the interest of the devolved administrations and Scots Law in the exit negotiations
- Promoting continued professional recognition and continued rights of audience in the EU
- Protecting legal professional privilege for the clients of Scottish Lawyers working in the EU or who are advising on EU Law
2019 has continued in the same vein. We have briefed MPs and peers on the legislative consequences of the various scenarios that have been the subject of debate in the UK parliament of late and we recently assisted the Scottish Government with its impact assessment of the statutory instrument repealing the Lawyers’ Directives, highlighting the fact that subject to meeting whatever visa requirements will be in place, our comparatively liberalised system means that we will continue to be able to welcome EU lawyers in Scotland.
We have hosted Brexit seminars for members where leading authorities from the Scottish legal profession and the academic community have shared their perspectives on the implications arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. A separate research project is looking at the impact of Brexit on Scots law to enable us to take all possible steps to ensure that once the UK leaves the EU, the Scottish legal system and its practitioners are not disadvantaged. We have also surveyed our members at various points in the process to find out more about their views on Brexit and how it will impact their business.
Advice and communications
We have written blogs, articles and posted FAQs on the effect of Brexit on practice rights and have dealt with individual member queries by email and over the phone; and our website is populated with updates on negotiations and relevant publications. Given the high level of uncertainty that has characterised the political landscape this year in particular, we have stepped up our member communications and CPD programme to help members prepare for all eventualities. Throughout January and February we hosted a series of focus group meetings around Scotland for our high street and in-house members to find out what their concerns are about Brexit and to help us tailor our training and communications programme to meet their needs. An article summarising what we learned from these events was published in the Law Society’s Journal in March.
We have also launched Brexit Matters, a new online CPD series examining important legal issues in the context of Brexit, the first being a discussion on data protection.
Representation in Brussels
As ever, we are very grateful to our colleagues in the Law Societies’ Brussels Office for the knowledge and expertise they have shared with us to date, as well as the engagement they have coordinated on our behalf with members and stakeholders in Brussels. We hope for continued positive engagement with our EU colleagues as the future relationship between the EU and UK is negotiated.
Alison Atack is President of the Law Society of Scotland