WTO to consider free cross-border practice

The World Trade Organisation looks set to launch an investigation into the right of lawyers to practise freely across national borders.

A spokesman from the WTO working party on professional services, which is currently examining the liberalisation of the provision of accountancy services, said plans to look at lawyers were likely to be unveiled during a meeting in Singapore next month.

International lawyers have been lobbying officials from the working party to address cross-border establishment in time for the conference. The Bar Council made the issue the focus of its September meeting.

Peter Goldsmith, chair of the Bar Council's international committee, said: “Every profession thinks it is special and that special rules must be applied to it. We must prove that lawyers merit a special regime and show that we can safeguard quality whilst preventing unnecessary barriers.”

Last week representatives from the International Bar Association went to Geneva to meet with officials from the WTO. The IBA has been canvassing the opinions of its members and is expected to publish guidelines on the standardisation of practices among member organisations.

Newly-elected IBA president Desmond Fernando PC said: “The investigations currently taking place within the World Trade Organisation will have a profound and permanent effect on the future of global legal practice. They will affect our profession in the years to come, and it is essential that our voice is heard and our opinions are considered.”

The WTO, the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, will hold a general meeting for ministers from 125 member states and 30 non-member states from 9 to 13 December.

Trevor Brown, a member of the Law Society's international committee, said: “Radical and searching questions must be asked about how far we can advance in liberalising the profession without affecting the professional practice rules of each country.”