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Law Society of Scotland highlights key issues for solicitors and clients in EU vote

19 May 2016 | tagged News release

The significance of whether to remain in or leave the European Union must not be understated, according to a Law Society of Scotland discussion paper.

The Referendum on EU Membership discussion paper, published today, Thursday 19 May, aims to help inform solicitors and their clients by exploring the process for leaving the EU, the implications for Scotland if the UK votes to leave and the legal changes which may be required in event of the UK exit from the EU.

Christine McLintock, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The significance of the referendum on whether to remain part of the EU or not, must not be understated.

“Our membership of the European Union affects each of us on a daily basis. Solicitors regularly advise their clients, whether individuals or businesses, on the impact of EU law and policies and keep their clients informed of their rights and obligations under EU law. For example as an employee or employer we are affected by the working time directive or the EU standards for parental leave. As consumers we are affected by EU food standards and those who work in industries ranging from agriculture and fisheries to telecoms and technology are also affected by EU regulations.”

The Society has consulted widely with its membership on the implications of the referendum, and found a "recurring theme" of uncertainty among solicitors.  Members cited access to the single market, free movement of people, and the UK’s standing in the international community as benefits of EU membership, while a perceived lack of democratic accountability, bureaucracy and regulatory requirements (and their associated costs) were among the downsides.

Members based in EU jurisdictions outside the UK, many of whom are not eligible to vote in the referendum, were worried about the impact of a UK exit on their living and working situation. 

McLintock said: “As a firmly non-partisan organisation, we are not advocating any one view over another. We recognise that there are differing views among our membership, just as across our society as a whole, however a vote to leave the EU raises a number of legal issues and questions that are important to for us all to consider – whether as a solicitor or as a client in Scotland, the UK and across the EU.

“We want people to be able to make an informed choice. The discussion paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the impact membership of the EU has on individuals and businesses in Scotland, for instance, in areas such as employment and consumer rights, equal opportunities and environmental controls. It also considers the position of solicitors who are currently working in other EU jurisdictions as well as how particular areas of UK and Scots law might be affected should we vote to leave.”

As well as surveying solicitors working in private practice and in-house, both in the UK and in other EU jurisdictions on the impact of EU membership and the referendum on them and their business, the Society has consulted its specialist committees to understand how particular areas of legal practice could be affected. It has also held a panel debate for its London-based members with speakers from both leave and remain campaigns and will hold a further event in Edinburgh on 16 June with Ian Forrester QC, a former practising Advocate and now the UK Judge at the General Court of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

McLintock said: “I am delighted that Judge Forrester has agreed to speak at our event next month. As a judge sitting in the European Court of Justice he has seen up close how being part of the EU affects the UK.  Taking place exactly one week before UK citizens go to the polls, I am sure that he will make a very timely and thoughtful contribution to the debate.”

EU Referendum Event

In advance of the UK Government’s referendum on EU membership, Judge Forrester will be speaking at a Law Society of Scotland event in Edinburgh on 16 June. A former practising advocate and partner of White & Case in Brussels, Judge Forrester was sworn in as the United Kingdom's Judge at the General Court of the European Union in October 2015.  Judge Forrester will deliver a lecture examining the history of the European Union, how it functions today and what the future of the UK – either within a reformed EU or outside it – will look like, based on his observations and experiences at the heart of the EU judicial process. 

To read the EU Referendum Discussion Paper see: www.lawscot.org.uk/EU-Referendum

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