French block plan to ease freedom to practice rules

FRENCH lawyers have scuppered the latest UK bid to liberalise the restrictions preventing lawyers from practising freely in Europe.

At a meeting of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of the European Union (CCBE) on 29 November, a French motion to impose restrictions on the ability of foreign lawyers to practice freely was passed by a large majority.

An opposing motion tabled by the UK delegation to liberalise the practising rules was defeated.

Although 10 out of 12 votes cast supported the French motion, there were five abstentions, enough to prevent it from being passed into policy. This would require a 75 per cent majority vote.

The stalemate in the CCBE will nonetheless make it difficult for the organisation to make an effective contribution to an impending World Trade Organisation investigation looking at professional services.

The World Trade Organisation is expected to announce this week an investigation into the right of lawyers to practise freely at its Singapore meeting for ministers from more than 150 states.

At the same meeting in Brussels the first vice-president, Michel Van Doosselaere, said that the CCBE would continue to support the Dutch Bar in its battle with accountancy firm Price Waterhouse over multidisciplinary partnerships.

The Law Society's Jonathan Goldsmith, speaking for the UK delegation, said: “This issue will continue to have important implications for the self regulation of local bars everywhere.”

The meeting also saw Van Doosselaere officially elected president for 1997. The incoming second vice-president will be Sotiris Felios from Greece.