Eilidh Wiseman, President of the Law Society of Scotland shares her reaction to the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.
Recently, I had the great pleasure to administer the notary public oath for a new notary and their choice of motto got me thinking about our own.
The Law Society of Scotland’s motto is “Humani nihil alienum”, a partial quote from a play by Terence, borrowing from the Greek playwright Menander. Roughly translated, our motto means “nothing of human affairs is alien to me.”
How comforting at a time of constitutional and political upheaval that we should be underpinned by this sense of historical readiness. Whatever the answer is, we will find it. Sometimes life can feel rather overwhelming, but if we remember most things have come our way before, albeit in different guises, we can be sure that a path through will be found.
In the days immediately following the EU referendum, I visited the Brussels office to meet with our members working there. I was also able to meet with several MEPs and the Scottish Government office in Brussels and there was a keen interest in our thoughts on the priority issues for our members, for our legal system and for the preservation of significant aspects of European jurisprudence and co-operation.
There is still a great deal of uncertainty following the vote to leave the EU and at this early stage there are more questions than answers. Withdrawal from the EU will have a significant impact on the Law Society, our work and our members. We will be monitoring developments closely and will update our members and advise them on the practical effects of the negotiations at every stage.
It will be necessary to minimise the disruption to the law caused by the withdrawal process and repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. To help ensure stability and certainty and maintain client confidence, legislation will be needed to preserve existing law until such time as the UK Parliament or the devolved legislatures can make consequential amendments or enact new law.
We have a role in representing the public interest and the interests of our members to law and policy makers throughout the negotiation period and during the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and have offered both the UK and Scottish Governments and Parliaments access to the legal expertise that we as an organisation have available. We have already been in contact with the key members of both governments to raise some of the initial areas that we suggest should be considered, from recognition and enforcement of citizens’ rights to continuity of business regulation. We have also begun a series of meetings and events that will provide an opportunity for us to hear from members and other stakeholders.
We will seek to assess what the outcome of the negotiations will mean for our members; for their business; for the domestic legislative process and for our future interaction with the EU. We will be urging the UK and Scottish governments to argue in negotiations for retaining the current arrangements for Scottish solicitors to be able to practise in the EU. As the professional body for Scottish solicitors, it will be very disappointing if the only route for our members to be able to practise in Europe in the future is to requalify in another EU jurisdiction.
There are of course the discussions around Scotland remaining in the EU. The Scottish Parliament has approved a motion which ‘mandates the Scottish Government to have discussions with the UK Government, other devolved administrations, the EU institutions and member states to explore options for protecting Scotland’s relationship with the EU’ and Nicola Sturgeon has already instigated discussions with the EU institutions. Again this is something we will monitor closely to ensure that we are part of the debate on behalf of our membership and their clients.
What is clear is that any process to change our relationship with the EU will take a considerable amount of time, stretching to several years.
Meantime, for the Law Society of Scotland, we plan to forge on with business as currently planned and we will remain fully engaged in our work with the EU, the CCBE, and others in Europe on matters of common interest. There will undoubtedly be new areas of work and new issues for us to think about as a result of the referendum vote, but our primary focus of leading legal excellence and being a world class profe