With a background in European law and having studied law in France and Belgium before coming to the Criminal Bar in England, I’ve always enjoyed comparing approaches to legal problems across jurisdictions. When I heard about the Anglo-Dutch Exchange, I jumped at the chance to expand my knowledge and to take part in an exchange programme with other junior practitioners; there was also the added bonus of trying out my rudimentary Dutch!
One of the things I have always enjoyed about exchange programmes – legal or otherwise – is the opportunity not just to learn about another culture, but also to reflect on our own. During my time in the Netherlands, I met practitioners from across a spectrum of disciplines and had the opportunity to discuss what their day-to-day practice looks like and compare and contrast with my own.
I was delighted to be hosted with a criminal practitioner in The Hague with an established connection with the Anglo-Dutch Exchange. I enjoyed getting to know him and his family whilst discussing differences in how we deal with various criminal matters over a drink in the evening or over the breakfast table in the morning. After wondering quite why my host had, prior to my arrival, enquired as to how tall I was, I was delighted to discover that on my first morning in The Hague he had a bicycle ready for me to cycle to our first breakfast gathering before heading over to the ICJ for an insiders’ tour. After just about mastering the backward pedalling in place of brakes on my Dutch bike, I felt like a natural, though local cyclists unfortunate enough to cross my path at various junctions may beg to differ.
I was struck by how approachable everyone was during our various visits, from senior members of the judiciary in their courtrooms and senior partners in their law firms, to young lawyers we joined across The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam for a drink or two in the evening. Everyone welcomed us with open arms and even politely tolerated my attempts to speak some Dutch!
I must admit to being surprised by quite how taken I was with our session at the Maritime Chamber of the Rotterdam District Court. The judges who greeted us were friendly and engaging and I left court considering a career change! The warm welcome we received there was matched after a water taxi ride across to the law firm of one of our host organisers. We were able to talk about current challenges in those fields with a cross-border element and to get a feel for how things are currently looking in the UK from the outside looking in.
Now perhaps more than ever as the UK finds its way in a new constitutional arrangement with our European partners, and beyond the restrictions of a pandemic-stricken globe, exchanges of all natures seem to me to be vital. At a challenging time for the Criminal Bar in particular at home, I found the Anglo-Dutch Exchange provided a refreshing boost to my passion for the work we all do as lawyers. I have expanded my network of friends and colleagues both in the Netherlands and here in the UK. I recommend wholeheartedly to anyone considering applying to join the exchange to grab the opportunity with both hands: you won’t be disappointed.
David J. M. Barr is a barrister at Goldsmith Chambers.