The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has condemned a Government plan to mutually recognise international legal qualifications as part of post-Brexit trade deals.
The Department for International Trade had opened consultations on its tactics for free trade agreements (FTAs) with Australia, New Zealand, the USA and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
It said FTAs offered opportunities to include certain provisions such as ‘standards, licensing and recognition of qualifications.’
The SRA said in response: ‘Recognition of professional qualifications should not be based on reciprocity but assessed on a case-by-case basis, to ensure that consumers’ interests are protected, and any restrictions are targeted and proportionate.
‘We need to balance the advantages of an open and competitive market in legal services against the need for practitioners to be competent to practise as solicitors of England and Wales.’
Currently, the SRA offers the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) as a means for foreign lawyers from recognised jurisdictions to qualify as solicitors in England and Wales.
In September 2020, the QLTS will be replaced by the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), a new standardised admission process which drew controversy from the profession due to its simplified nature .
The SRA asserted ‘through the SQE we will assess the competence of all candidates, both domestic and international on a comparable basis.’
Such scepticism from the SRA contributes to a largely ambiguous forecast of the UK’s legal sector in a post-Brexit world. In September, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published guidance with the conclusion that if no deal is reached with the EU, the UK will have to rely on domestic common law rules currently applied to cases involving non-EU countries for cross-border disputes.
And in an ironic announcement unlikely to inspire confidence, the MoJ also recommended that those likely to be involved in civil cases on 29 March 2019 should seek legal advice.