Legal Services bring in 'big money' to UK

10 March 2015

"IF THE RULE OF LAW WAS A CRUMBLING BUILDING, WE'D BE THROWING MONEY AT IT"

The legal sector brings in "big money" to the UK - money that will be lost if successive governments continue to neglect the rule of law and forget that this is what helps draw in so much foreign business and investment, MP and Peers were told today.

In a speech given at the Palace of Westminster, Chairman of the Bar, Alistair MacDonald QC, told a cross party meeting of MPs and Lords that it would be as absurd to make further cuts to legal aid as it would be to slash the maintenance budget for the Palace of Westminster, just when it needs a £3 billion make-over.

He said: "A critical factor in our success is the perception that the UK promotes an unparalleled adherence to the rule of law. Businesses and their employees know they will be treated fairly by the system and that they can operate within a tolerant, stable and equitable society.  As a result, they can get on with their business activities or dispute resolution affairs untrammelled by unwanted distractions.

"Although to the uninitiated, the Palace of Westminster looks absolutely splendid, it needs £3 billion spending on it to prevent it becoming an unusable ruin.

"But the state of access to justice and the rule of law are in a similar state.  The talk of further cuts to legal aid is about as sensible as saying that the maintenance budget of the Palace of Westminster should be reduced.  If the Palace of Westminster fell down because of a failure properly to preserve our national heritage, there would be a public outcry.  What a shame the rule of law is part of our intangible heritage.

"A failure to preserve access to justice has the potential for real damage to the thriving private sector of which I spoke earlier.   New York, Singapore, Australia and many other centres are circling like sharks desperate to supplant the UK as the dispute resolution capital of the world.  If we are seen to be discarding our adherence to the rule of law and we do not keep in good order and repair that which we had, we run the risk of losing everything we have built up over so many years. 

"We are at a critical point in the history of the rule of law in this country.  If you decide to preserve this Palace, please also spend the money that is now absolutely required to safeguard the rule of law." 

"Based on insurance records from the Bar Mutual Indemnity Fund, the Bar's contribution to the UK economy from overseas earnings has risen from £90m to £230 over the last 10 years.  Because that is based on services zero rated for VAT, it does not include legal services provided, for example, to subsidiaries of overseas companies, which are located in the UK.  The true figure is therefore much greater. 

"In addition, the legal services sector's contribution to the UK economy, which rose 9.4% year-on-year in the period to 2013 was £22.6bn or 1.6% of GDP. That contribution has grown by around 65% over the decade to 2013, with our net export surplus also doubling over the same period to £3.1bn.  This is big money."

Ends

Notes to editors

  • A copy of the full speech is available here
  • The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes: 

    • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services

    • Fair access to justice for all

    • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and

    • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

Contact: the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and  Press@BarCouncil.org.uk