Foreign lawyers face Czech examinations

Foreign lawyers practising in the Czech Republic have complained to the Chamber of Advocates in Prague about a new law requiring foreign lawyers to pass an exam.

The Act on Legal Advocacy, which became law in July, rules that foreign lawyers cannot practise international law until they have passed written and oral exams on the Czech constitution and the basics of Czech law and business ethics.

Foreign lawyers practising in the country say this would contravene an agreement drawn up between the European Union and the Czech Republic, which wants to join the EC.

There is also concern about a clause in the act that appears to imply that foreign lawyers can only practice as partners or consultants. Jan Grozdanovic, chair of the British Czech Law Association and a partner at London firm Seddons' Prague office, said the problem had to be cleared up as soon as possible.

He said that the exam was regarded as unnecessary by most lawyers. “Foreign lawyers in Prague already know about international law and the exam will not enable them to practice Czech law, so it doesn't really achieve anything,” he added.

But Andrew Matthews, resident partner in Clifford Chance's Prague office does not agree. He said: “Czech lawyers have always been regulated by the Czech Chamber of Advocates, there is no reason why we should not get equal treatment. I am aware that some of the lawyers who have been working in Prague for four or five years are alarmed about having to take the exam.”

The law takes effect on 1 January 1997 and the exam is expected to be under way by spring.