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Sunday, 30 October 2011

EU contract law threatens English legal profession

Here's an interesting take on the proposed EU contract law, from Alex Aldridge in The Guardian: English law's hegemony in international contracting would be compromised if the civil law-common law hybrid came into operation. Civil lawyers - that's lawyers from civil law countries, not simply well-mannered ones, though they are probably that too, most of them at least - appear to be rubbing their hands with glee.Should we be worried, or will this only hit a few large City firms who can take it? I think we should be worried, for the impact on Britain's balance of payments and standing in the legal world: fewer disputes would come to England for resolution in the courts or before arbitrators as well as lawyers being consulted yet. English law, and English legal education, remains a gold standard internationally, which is how I find myself tutoring Russian students reading for external London University law degrees.

The advantages of an EU contract law seem pretty nebulous. I rather like Ken Clarke's comment that the best solution to the problems of dealing with 27 different national laws is unlikely to be to create a 28th system. As for the interests of small businesses trying to trade across national boundaries, this will often be dealt with by appointing agents or distributors - although that tends to negate the advantages of Internet trading. But even if they could make their contracts under a single pan-EU law they'd still face the more troublesome problem of having to engage in litigation in foreign courts if things went wrong. Perhaps the rest of the EU should follow our lead (if they haven't done this already) and make litigation so expensive that it's beyond the reach of ordinary consumers.

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