For centuries, the UK has rightly been considered one of the main bastions of the law. It’s why so many companies, regardless of where they are based or where they conduct their business, have contracts written in English law and choose to settle their disputes, should it come to that, in English courts.
Companies are legal entities. They need contract certainty, protection of intellectual property, and a fair and independent court system to uphold it all. Protectionism, corruption, and arbitrary political or legal decision-making will lead companies to believe they’ll have a harder time competing fairly and protecting their investments.
The chief executive of a UK bank once told me that the whole financial system is based on bond prices and these are ultimately based on bankruptcy laws. That’s because they help to establish who gets what when a borrower goes bust. It is one of the reasons that the finance industry is so concentrated in the US, the UK and Hong Kong.
That position might seem impregnable but nothing lasts forever. Just ask lawyers in Hong Kong. What’s more, the legal industry is as competitive as any other. Already there are worries that the UK is losing ground to other jurisdictions in areas of traditional strength, and failing to innovate fast enough to adapt laws to cover new areas of the economy such as artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency. Singapore in particular has made great strides, increasing its appeal as a legal jurisdiction.
Some privately worry that the whole Brexit imbroglio, and this Government’s populist boasts about ignoring lawyers and the rule of law, risk further undermining the appeal of our legal system. There are also quiet concerns within legal circles that the upcoming Judicial Review may even seek to undermine the independence of the courts.
The legal wrangles the Government has got itself into in delivering Brexit may seem arcane and irrelevant to most people’s lives. But the rule of law matters. It’s odd that this even needs saying, stranger still that a Conservative Government appears to need telling.
The withdrawal agreement and Brexit bill may already seem like mere details in our history now. But, as any good lawyer will tell you, the Devil’s in the details.