THE LAW Society has claimed victory after MEPs voted overwhelmingly to free restrictions on lawyers working abroad.

The draft directive on rights of establishment passed its first reading at the European Parliament on Wednesday last week by 449 votes to 23.

The directive still has to be approved by the Council of Ministers, but according to Patrick Oliver, of the Law Society's Brussels office, the overwhelming vote will make it difficult for ministers to change it.

The directive will allow lawyers working abroad in Europe to permanently practise their own law.

The UK and Germany have been pushing for this liberalisation for years but the move has been opposed by France and Spain, which want temporary rather than permanent rights of establishment for foreign lawyers.

The directive also relaxes rules on transfer tests which lawyers must pass to join foreign Bars and gives national law societies and Bars discretion over whether they allow foreign lawyers to enroll, another move backed by the UK and Germany.

“This is an overwhelming show of support for the UK and German vision,” said Oliver. “It is likely the directive will now become law. The commission has already said it supports all but three of the parliament's amendments to the directive.”

He said the second reading could now occur by next summer, provided no controversial amendments were made. “We could have a directive in the next 18 months and it should be in force and enforceable within three years.”