The President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, Ian Huddleston has said that: “Brexit in whatever form it ultimately takes, is likely to be a further disruptor, at least in the short term and as a result will make life messier not just for the legal profession, but for all of us.

The President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, Ian Huddleston has said that:

“Brexit in whatever form it ultimately takes, is likely to be a further disruptor, at least in the short term and as a result will make life messier not just for the legal profession, but for all of us.

The President was speaking at the Law Society’s Annual Council Dinner at Belfast City Hall on Friday 8th September 2017.

In his key note address to invited guests including senior members of the Judiciary, Members of Parliament, Government, and the legal community the President said:

“The Society throughout what have been some difficult times in Northern Ireland’s history has scrupulously maintained a tradition of being non-political.

But, with the prospect of Brexit looming, and the importance of the role that we as lawyers and civic leaders have, I feel that now is the time to recalibrate. There is a distinction between being “political” and being partisan.

We can be political in the sense of identifying and working for better outcomes for the law that is the framework of our society and how it functions in a way that allow us as an economy to grow and prosper and thereby benefit civil society of which we are all part.

We can do that without being partisan.

Indeed I strongly feel that we, as an objective and an independent profession – a position which we hold so dear – have a responsibility to now take a position and indeed, in the absence of a functioning NI Executive, we would be remiss if we did not take up that mantle”.

And that is why we as lawyers, on behalf of society need to express our concerns as to what Brexit means – to be clear not what form it takes – that is a matter for the politicians, but rather how it is implemented.

In terms of the detail: -

  • we know that over 17,000 pieces of legislation have a European dimension and will be directly affected;
  • we know that the re-ordering of that body of law will impact on the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and here in Northern Ireland and, indirectly, our colleagues in the Republic;
  • we know and have heard the debate how implementation of the Withdrawal Bill will impact on the democratic process to some extent in terms of how that legislation is brought forward and the level of parliamentary scrutiny under which it will properly be put;
  • we know that there is a likely divergence in regulation between the United Kingdom and the remaining EU 27 and that that divergence will impact on trade;

After explaining about the various issues which the Society has identified that will follow Brexit including: -

  • a question mark over the role of the European Court of Justice;
  • a question mark over the enforceability of Judgments across borders;
  • the continuance of legal professional privilege and mutual recognition of lawyers;

he continued that the resultant uncertainty would impact upon the ability of lawyers to provide cogent, practical and certain advice to clients across all sectors such as trade; family law; tax; or immigration.

As to the role of lawyers in that uncertain world, he said: -

“To be clear, I am not saying that the legal profession is not up to the task – we are a flexible and an inventive bunch and we will find solutions to the questions that clients pose of us.

Indeed the philosopher Jeremy Bentham said that the true power of lawyers is in the face of uncertainty in the law. But , what I am saying is that it is not an uncertainty which we seek and that those solutions and the advice we can give will inevitably be clearer and more effective the greater the certainty we have.

Lawyers are, fundamentally, enablers. We are not law or policy makers – for that we must – and indeed should - rely on our elected politicians to fulfil the role of lawmakers and policy originators. That is the proper forum in which to have those debates.”

He encouraged political engagement and debate from all elected politicians to ensure that proper parliamentary scrutiny was undertaken in relation not just to the Withdrawal Bill, but all subsequent legislation and that Government bear in mind that the certainty of the law was an economic driver, which allowed the growth and continued security of both the economy and civil society.

This article was first published by Business Eye on 2 October 2017.