London Professor Discusses ‘Brexit’ and English Law

The United Kingdom’s scheduled exit from the European Union – nicknamed “Brexit” – has caused some uncertainty in global politics and the economy, but one certainty is that the English legal system will continue to hold international importance.

Penny Darbyshire, a professor at Kingston Law School in London and the University of Notre Dame’s London Law Centre, spoke to students last week at Notre Dame Law School about the position of English law in the world and the value of studying law in London.

“The English legal system is the mother of the world’s biggest family of legal systems,” she said, listing the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, and the rest of the nations in the former British Commonwealth.

Darbyshire said the U.K.’s history as a maritime nation means its courts were designed to handle international disputes. “It has always been the case,” she said, “that a lot of people want to bring their disputes to London to be resolved and to be resolved by English law.”

As a result, the U.K. is the world’s second-largest market for legal services after the United States. There are 200 foreign law firms in the U.K. from 40 jurisdictions, she said, and London is the base for three of the world’s four largest international law firms.

“The U.K. – and especially London – won’t lose its position in international legal services,” she said. “The United States has always used London as a springboard into Europe.”

Two aspects of “Brexit” that remain to be seen are the process of U.K. leaders choosing which European Union laws to keep and how U.K. courts will treat precedents set since 1973, when the U.K. joined the European Communities – a precursor to the European Union.

Regardless, Darbyshire said the laws of the European Union will continue to be relevant in the U.K. because the two will continue to be primary trading partners. “Every U.K. lawyer will continue to need to have a profound knowledge of E.U. law,” she said.

The International Law Society and the Women’s Legal Forum sponsored the event.