E5uropean directive close to fruition

A “COMMON position” on the establishment rights of lawyers will probably be reached by the European Council of Ministers Working Group on the Lawyers' Establishment Directive by the end of May, according to the international director of the Law Society, Jonathan Goldsmith.

The directive, which was overwhelmingly approved by the European Parliament in June last year, is designed to remove current restrictions preventing the free movement of lawyers between member states.

In order to become law, it is necessary for the directive to gain the approval of the Council of Ministers, but the issue has been hampered by controversy.

The plan is designed to allow lawyers to set up in other European Union countries to practise their domestic law with a minimum of restrictions.

French objections to the directive have been widely reported, but are now thought to have been overcome.

Currently, the main sticking point is believed to surround article 10, which concerns how and when a lawyer working abroad can be integrated into the host country's profession.

The draft directive allows integration once a foreign lawyer has been involved in three years unbroken practice dealing with issues related to domestic law in the host nation.

According to Goldsmith, the directive in its draft form currently has the support of France and Spain. However, both the UK and Germany are keen to see some further form of “quality control” before integration.

He said any agreement on article 10 would involve a “fine balance of interests”.

If the working group were to reach an agreement by May, the directive could be in place before the end of the year, and would finally bring to an end 20 years of lively European debate.