Registrations by UK solicitors in doubt following Law Society letter

More than €800,000 spent on getting names on Irish roll may have been in vain

Since the Brexit vote, 2,722 English and Welsh solicitors have register the Law Society. Photograph: Eric Luke

Since the Brexit vote, 2,722 English and Welsh solicitors have register the Law Society. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Steps taken by more than 2,700 English and Welsh solicitors to ensure they are able to continue practising in the EU after Brexit, have been thrown into confusion by the Law Society.

Since the Brexit vote, 2,722 English and Welsh solicitors have registered with the society, paying the €300 administrative fee in the hope that Irish registration would mean they would be able to continue to be involved in hearings at the European Union Court of Justice, as well as in other areas of EU-related law.

However, the more than €800,000 spent on getting their names on the Irish roll may have been in vain, according to a letter sent out to the solicitors in March, just three days before the UK was due to exit the EU.

The March 25th letter stated that solicitors registered here and with Irish practising certificates could only practice if they had an “establishment” in the State, and indemnity insurance issued within the State.

Most of the British solicitors who joined the roll since 2016 did so while continuing to practise in their English and Welsh firms. The number of solicitors doing so was such that the “Brexit refugees” now constitute 14 per cent of the Irish roll.

The letter issued by the Law Society in March has also alarmed a number of Irish-registered solicitors practising in EU states. They are concerned that the notification that Irish practising certificates cannot be used to provide Irish or EU legal services from outside the State, would stop them being able to work in key EU locations such as Brussels, Strasbourg and Frankfurt.

Some have lodged High Court proceedings against the Law Society in response to the letter, though it is understood this is more of a precautionary measure.

Regulatory responsibilities

The letter from the society appears to have been prompted by concerns about the regulatory responsibilities it will have over the thousands of English and Welsh solicitors now on its rolls, according to one Irish-registered solicitor based in Europe. It is now hoped that the difficulty can be resolved through negotiation.

However, this would be separate to the situation facing the English and Welsh. They will not be able to complain that their exclusion was contrary to EU law on freedom of movement and establishment.

Director general of the Law Society Ken Murphy said a guidance note on the issue is being worked on by the society’s regulation department. He said the €300 administrative fee for admission to the roll produced no surplus revenue for the society.

In 2016, when the society first noticed a jump in English and Welsh solicitors seeking to join the Irish roll, Mr Murphy said it was his understanding “that the majority of the solicitors who are completing this process will continue to practise in London or Brussels and do not intend to set up a physical practice in Ireland”.