December 20, 2016 / 12:11 AM / 7 months ago

Legal firms want unilateral UK action to safeguard sector after Brexit

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Commuters leave Chancery Lane Underground Station in London July 18, 2012.Ki Price

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain should take immediate action to safeguard the pre-eminent global role of its courts and legal services in resolving disputes over commercial contracts once Britain leaves the EU, a lobby group for the industry said on Tuesday.

Britain's legal services sector is second in size only to the United States and Britain has become the world's top centre for dispute resolution due to the use of English law in commercial contracts.

EU rules, known as Rome I and Rome II, require member state courts to respect a party's choice of law for their contracts.

Britain's exit from the European Union, however, could make the choice of English courts less attractive to international businesses, the report from TheCityUK, which lobbies on behalf of UK-based financial and related professional services firms, said.

The choice of English law for a contract and the choice of the English courts as the dispute resolution forum should be considered as a package, as typically the same law and jurisdiction is chosen, it said.

"We recommend that the government – and the devolved administrations – should make clear they will apply the rules set out in Rome I and Rome II, including choice of law for non-contractual obligations, by converting them into domestic law," the report said.

FILE PHOTO - Participants hold a British Union flag and an EU flag during a pro-EU referendum event at Parliament Square in London, Britain June 19, 2016.Neil Hall/File Photo

"This can and should be done now, unilaterally and without affecting the negotiations to exit the EU."

Some European academics have already questioned the validity of making London the place of dispute resolution for new contracts since the Brexit vote in Britain. Countries like Singapore also want to become bigger centres for dispute resolution.

Failure to underpin UK decisions for use in contracts across the EU after Brexit would undermine Britain's legal services in the wider global market, the report said.

More than a fifth of all practising solicitors in Britain work in financial services-related functions, and the UK legal sector's trade surplus has nearly doubled over the past decade to 3.4 billion pounds.

Losing access to the EU's single market would pose a high risk of causing considerable losses in financial and reputational terms to the legal services sector over the long term, the report said.

"The best Brexit deal will be one which is mutually beneficial to the UK, the EU and globally and which allows for a clear and predictable shift from current business conditions to whatever new arrangement is agreed," TheCityUK's Chief Executive, Miles Celic, said in a statement.

Reporting by Huw Jones; Editing by Susan Fenton

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