21 March 2019

Solicitors prepare for Brexit

Preferential treatment for EU lawyers qualifying in England and Wales to end under no-deal Brexit says SRA, but Ireland keeps door open.


The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) of England and Wales has confirmed changes to foreign solicitor qualification criteria in event of a no-deal Brexit. Under current legislation, EU lawyers are able to apply for exemptions on a topic by topic basis from the qualified lawyers transfer scheme (QLTS), which all foreign-qualified lawyers must sit to qualify in England and Wales. No such exemptions are currently offered to lawyers from beyond the EU.

Rules clarified

Changes to the current arrangements would be required in the event of a no-deal Brexit, as under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules it would no longer be possible to offer preferential treatment to EU lawyers. In future all foreign lawyers will be able to apply for exemptions, but these would only be offered on the basis that they cover the entirety of either or both parts of the QLTS. Whether exemptions are granted will continue to depend upon a case-by-case review of that lawyer's qualifications and experience. EU-based lawyers wishing to apply under the current exemptions regime can still do so, providing their application is received before the date any no deal Brexit becomes effective. Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, arrangements for solicitors from Scotland and Northern Ireland will continue unchanged. The SRA consulted on the potential changes in December 2018 with feedback from stakeholders and the profession broadly in favour of the proposed approach. The UK Government has now made legislative changes to the EU (Recognition of Professional Qualifications) Regulations which will come into effect in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said ‘whatever the outcome of the negotiations it is important that we are prepared to make sure the transition to any new arrangements takes place as seamlessly as possible, with as little disruption as possible for the profession or the public who need their services.’

Dual practice rights

Ireland is seen as a special case because it remains in the EU as a common law jurisdiction, as does Malta which is a mixed common and civil law jurisdiction. Since the announcement of the EU referendum result in 2016, large numbers of English and Welsh solicitors have qualified as Irish solicitors in order to preserve EU practice rights. Historically, very few applied. The SRA stated the generic qualifications of solicitors of the Republic of Ireland have been mapped against the day one outcomes, which shows there is equivalence in all subjects except for land law. Irish solicitors therefore only need to take land law questions in the QLTS. As an alternative, the SRA permits Irish solicitors to take an English land law assessment run by the Law Society of Ireland. An Irish solicitor with this English land law qualification is then entitled to exemption from the whole of the QLTS, and to apply for admission as an English solicitor with no further aptitude test. The overwhelming majority take this option. English and Welsh solicitors are entitled to admission as solicitors of the Irish Republic, without any aptitude test. The Law Society of Ireland has informed the SRA that the legislative position in Ireland is that recognition is based on reciprocity. The implication of this is that, should EU arrangements fall away, then on the basis of current arrangements, the Law Society of Ireland may introduce a requirement for English solicitors to take a test in Irish land law. Full consultation documents can be found here.

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