Brits & Brussels: UK Lawyers take up Belgian citizenship

August 26, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

British lawyers based in Brussels are taking Belgian citizenship to continue practising before the European courts post-Brexit.

What does this mean?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to pull Britain out of the bloc come 31 October and in the event of a no deal, British lawyers practising in the EU may face certain restrictions, such as losing the right to take part in post-Brexit Court of Justice proceedings.

Brussels is a key centre for competition law and most large international firms have an office there to advise clients on European law issues. This is why joining the Belgian bar is an attractive course. Trevor Soames, a Brussels-based partner at US law firm Quinn Emmanuel has recently obtained Belgian citizenship and joined the Belgian Bar.

What's the big picture effect?

British lawyers practising in Brussels have taken proactive steps to either getting Belgian citizenship or starting the process of doing it. Soames says “a significant part of my work is arguing cases before the European Court, as of 31 October my rights of audience cease. This goes for all British lawyers unless there is a withdrawal agreement”. Further, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, British lawyers practising in the EU will lose their right to lawyer-client privilege

This will greatly affect the work of law firms and massively restrict the type of work they can take on, it could effectively forbid them from representing clients. Soames states “those working from London without a credible Brussels presence will lose out as I doubt international, non-UK, clients will go to London-based lawyers for Brussels-related work”.

Many lawyers have registered with the Brussels bar and more than 2,700 lawyers have paid €300 to join the Irish roll of solicitors. Practising in Ireland is an alternative to obtaining Belgain citizenship. However, the Irish Law society has thrown doubt on whether this will be enough, suggesting that lawyers will need to be established within Ireland and pay indemnity insurance within the state. 

As Brexit gets seems unlikely to become any clearer, British lawyers can protect themselves by becoming a Belgian citizen. Belgian professional bodies have granted an extension and allowed attorneys to hold on to their rights in the case that the UK leaves without a deal until December 2020. However, only time will tell what the future lies for law firms in Brussels.

Report written by Maab Saifeldin

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