European reforms top agenda at conference

John Malpas reports

GOVERNMENT proposals to reform the European Court to allow its decisions to come under greater scrutiny were unveiled at a conference organised by the Bar European Group.

Around 100 lawyers attended the conference in Brussels earlier this month, held to discuss the forthcoming 1996 Inter-Governmental Conference from the perspective of the practising lawyer.

The highlight of the session was provided by Patrick Layden, an official at the Lord Advocate's Department, who outlined the UK Government's latest position on the role of the European Court.

Layden said member states should be given the right to request a full court hearing on any individual court judgments.

His remarks dispelled fears that the Government was planning to propose a new mechanism to allow member states the power to override European Court decisions by a majority vote.

The plan, reported in the Financial Times last February, had caused widespread concern among barristers.

Fergus Randolph, who helped organise the conference for the Bar European Group, said Layden's proposal went down well with the audience.

Randolph, of Brick Court Chambers in Brussels, described it as a constructive suggestion.

He said some of the court's decisions were immensely important and highly complex and would benefit from being clarified in a full session of the court where all the issues could be thrashed out.

Other topics which came under discussion during the conference were the role of an independent competition authority and methods for improving direct access to the court.

Among the speakers were the UK's judge on the European Court of Justice, Judge David Edwards, Dr John Temple-Lang, of the European Court of Justice's legal services and Bar Council chair Peter Goldsmith QC.

Goldsmith described the conference as "highly provocative".

"The English Bar has a great deal to contribute to this debate which will shape the European legal system of the next century," he said.

"It is vital that these issues are treated with the seriousness that they merit, and not simply treated as party political footballs."