A new free trade agreement between Australia and the UK could mean greater synergy between legal services across the two countries, according to the Law Society UK and the Law Council of Australia.
The deal between Australia and the UK has been agreed on in principle this week and is the first major trade deal for the UK since Brexit.
As part of the deal, the UK will start to import Australian lamb, beef and sugar over a 15-year period and 99 per cent of Australian goods can enter the UK duty-free once the deal comes into effect midway through 2022. The working holiday visa age limit will also be increased in both countries from 30 to 35, providing up to three years of working rights.
The news has been welcomed by the Law Society of England and Wales and president I. Stephanie Boyce said the deal reflects the importance of market access for services in both economies.
“The UK-Australia free trade agreement (FTA) can create opportunities for our legal professions to work together to address the remaining barriers to cross-border practice, which will make doing business easier for clients,” she said.
“The FTA is a springboard to continue developing the relationship between Australia and the UK. The two countries already have a strong foundation given the long-standing relationship between Australian and the UK legal regulators, representative bodies and professionals.”
The Law Council of Australia, in a submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and in subsequent meetings with the department, has discussed ways in which the trade agreement can facilitate two-way mobility between Australian and UK lawyers and reduce existing barriers to trade in legal services between the jurisdictions.
“The announcement that the UK and Australian governments have agreed on the broad outlines of an Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement is welcomed by the Law Council of Australia,” Law Council president Dr Jacoba Brasch QC said in a statement.
“The FTA will confirm that both Australian and UK lawyers can practise as foreign lawyers and provide arbitration, mediation and conciliation services in the other jurisdiction using their home qualifications and title.”
Ms Boyce added that it is crucial that there is added cooperation from relevant bodies to make sure the cross-border provision of legal services is seamless and said there were still barriers in place.
Many of these barriers will increase the cost for legal clients, limit international opportunities for local lawyers and reduce both contribution to the local market and the transfer of skills, especially for those without the support of larger organisations.
“However, there are still practical barriers that prevent the realisation of the full benefit of trade in legal services between our countries,” Ms Boyce said.
“On the free flow of data provisions and the ban on data localisation, we urge the UK government to consider the specific characteristics for legal services. Legal professionals follow their own professional obligations.
“It is important that personal data processed by law firms are well-protected and that the fundamental rights of client confidentiality and legal professional privilege (LPP) are safeguarded in such trade agreements.
“We look forward to deepening our discussions on market access and a simpler requalification system with our key counterparts, including the Law Council of Australia, and would welcome a clear framework for regulatory dialogue under the FTA with Australia to further this cooperation.”
Dr Brasch QC added that the Law Council was excited for further discussions to come.
“The Law Council looks forward to continuing discussions with key stakeholders with a view to reducing remaining barriers for Australian and UK lawyers to practise as a local lawyer in the other jurisdiction,” she said.