Follow the money
Now even senior judges have come out to fend off concerns over the impact of Brexit on the country's legal system, says Matthew Rogers
When Lord Neuberger and Lord Thomas embarked on their judicial careers more than 20 years ago, neither could have imagined their swansong would come at a time of unprecedented uncertainty for the UK’s legal system.
The two most senior judges in England and Wales gave speeches to domestic and global audiences last week, attempting to allay any concerns that Brexit will derail London’s position as the world’s litigation capital.
In an address to the Australian Bar Association’s Biennial conference, the president of the Supreme Court said Brexit would ‘in no way undermine London’s status as the world centre for legal services generally and dispute resolution in particular’.
Meanwhile, speaking at the judges’ Mansion House dinner in London, the Lord Chief Justice went further and rebuked the ‘lie’ being used by foreign competitors that London would no longer be a safe forum to bring disputes. He championed the UK’s ‘expert and world-respected’ legal profession and judges ‘renowned for their expertise, impartiality and integrity’.
‘All the key features that made London into the leading centre for dispute resolution will continue unchanged. All of this must be clearly and resolutely said by all of us,’ he said. It was the third time in four weeks that he had spoken publicly in such terms.
It is a sign of these turbulent times that our most senior judges speak out about an issue that was never in doubt before last year’s EU referendum, adding their voices to the official government line to protect a sector that contributes £26bn to the UK’s economy.
For the threats to Britain as a leading international dispute resolution centre are growing. Only last week French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said his country will set up a special court to handle English law cases for financial contracts after Brexit.
There are concerns too over the possibility that high-value litigation could flow out to jurisdictions that have been more obviously competing with the UK for international work, such as Singapore.
What can Britain do in practice? Independent and impartial judges are an essential ingredient but an efficient court infrastructure is key too. This is the rationale behind the launch of the Business and Property Courts, which will place the various commercial courts under a single umbrella and will sit in the Rolls Building in London as well as in five other cities across England and Wales.
The government’s £1bn courts reform programme is also ongoing and, in the words of Lord Thomas, will ‘underpin our international work’ and support ‘a justice system that leads the world’.
Swansongs have tended to be a celebration of one’s career, mostly reminiscing about past achievements. For the UK’s two most senior judges, however, their focus is very much on the future, seeking to ensure the global reputation of our judiciary and legal system is preserved for the benefit of future generations of lawyers.
Over-cautious? Perhaps. Too focused on big-ticket work? Maybe. But their interventions are a necessary contribution to the protection of the country’s legal system as a whole and what it stands for when it comes to respect for the rule of law. In that sense at least, they should be welcome. And let’s not forget, of course, these £26bn. If in doubt, follow the money.
Matthew Rogers is a reporter at Solicitors Journal