The president of the Law Society of Northern Ireland has broken with a long tradition of political non-intervention to share concerns about what Brexit means for lawyers and the wider public.
Making the keynote address, Ian Huddleston told the Law Society’s annual council dinner at Belfast City Hall that Brexit will “make life messier not just for the legal profession, but for all of us”.
Mr Huddleston told guests: “The Society, throughout what have been some difficult times in Northern Ireland’s history, has scrupulously maintained a tradition of being non-political.
“But with the prospect of Brexit looming, and the importance of the role that we as lawyers and civic leaders have, I feel that now is the time to recalibrate.”
He said there was “a distinction between being ‘political’ and being partisan”, adding: “I strongly feel we, an objective and an independent profession – a position we hold so dear – have a responsibility to now take a position and indeed, in the absence of a functioning NI Executive, we would be remiss if we did not take up that mantle.”
But Mr Huddleston made clear that the form Brexit it takes “is a matter for the politicians”, and his concerns were over implementation.
He said uncertainty over issues like the status of the European Court of Justice, the enforceability of judgments across borders, and the continuance of legal professional privilege would “impact upon the ability of lawyers to provide cogent, practical and certain advice to clients across all sectors such as trade; family law; tax; or immigration”.
Mr Huddleston encouraged political engagement and debate from elected politicians to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny of the EU Withdrawal Bill and all subsequent legislation.