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President's column

13 August 18

Visiting the Society’s Brussels Office let me see the extent of activities carried on there – and meet our local members and their foreign counterparts, all to maintain links in a changing future

by Alison Atack

What better place to be, at the time of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill debate, than in Brussels itself. I recently attended our Brussels Office summer reception, along with my Society colleagues Michael Clancy, director of Law Reform and Katie Hay, head of International – I could not have been with better, more knowledgeable companions. 

The Law Society of England & Wales was the second European bar association (following the French) to set up a Brussels Office, at the end of 1990. This was at the time of deepening of the single market through the efforts of then Commission President Jacques Delors, and plans to expand the actions of the soon-to-become European Union into the policy areas of justice and home affairs through the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty. The Law Society of Scotland joined the Brussels Office in 1994, followed by the Law Society of Northern Ireland in 2000.

Premises are shared with other Brussels representatives of European bars and law societies, including the German and Austrian bars, so it is a hive of activity at this time. The core objectives of the office are to represent, support and promote solicitors in the EU. There is a strong element of public interest objective in our work there, since the aim is to promote better-quality legislation and better functioning of the justice and legal system, making representations on legislation and policies that impact the solicitors’ profession, substantive and procedural laws on which solicitors advise their clients, and wider issues such as better regulation and proper administration of justice. 

You will be aware of the amount of work that is done on our behalf if you read their monthly newsletter. It was a great pleasure to meet face to face the people who have been emailing us all these years with updates, such as office manager Antonella Verde, Anna Drozd, Rita Giannini and Eoin Lavelle. Head of office Helena Raulus, a Finnish national with a Scots law background, gave the welcoming speech. I have to thank them all for a great welcome and a very enlightening insight into the legal world in Brussels – where everyone is multilingual and super-qualified – plus very busy!

Lines of communication

The summer reception was held at the offices of Squire Patton Boggs and we have to thank one of our members, Dr Robert MacLean – a partner in the firm who sits on the Brussels Office advisory committee – for providing this wonderful setting. We were all grateful for the inviting rooftop terrace on a very warm evening. The reception provided the perfect opportunity for the Society to engage with our own members in Brussels and also its European stakeholders, as well as representatives from the Austrian, Czech, Belgian, German and Luxemburgish bars.

The next day we held a members’ breakfast meeting at the Brussels Office. We have 22 Scots-qualified lawyers in Belgium, the majority of whom work in Brussels. 

Attendees included Scott Crosby of Kemmlers, and Jacqueline MacLennan of White & Case. There was a lively and interesting discussion about Brexit and life in the future, with the general feeling that there was going to be a “hard Brexit”. Topics included rights of audience and the requalification process, for example in Ireland and France, whether court pleadings and the Commission language would remain English, possible financial services moves to Frankfurt or Dublin, EU arrest warrants, Erasmus and continuing university research programmes, plus cross-border family law. There is a feeling that the UK’s attitude to the EU has been “In with lots of outs and now out with lots of ins”.

The visit finished with a meeting at the newly-refurbished Scotland House, the Scottish Government’s EU Office, where Michael Clancy was able to discuss eloquently red lines and meaningful votes with Mike Neilson, the director of the office, deputy director Ian Campbell, and senior policy adviser Nicola Wishart, who focuses on justice and home affairs. The intention is to keep the office going so that there is an “ear to the ground” no matter what, and to keep the line of communication open with the Law Society of Scotland on all matters of policy relating to justice and legal affairs. 

Life after Brexit will form part of our fantastic annual conference Leading Legal Excellence on 26 October in Edinburgh. There will no doubt be opportunities for Scottish solicitors whatever Brexit brings, with new prospects in private international law, trade deals, migration, agriculture, regulation and standards. I hope to see you there on 26 October!

Alison Atack is President of the Law Society of Scotland – president@lawscot.org.uk 

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