16/9/2016 by Katherine Memery
In June, the results of the EU referendum marked the beginning of a period of uncertainty, as the British people voted to leave the European Union. Nine months on and the triggering of Article 50 now implemented, the future of Britain’s relationship with Europe remains unclear.
Since the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973, EU law has had a significant impact on the British legal system. While estimates vary, it’s thought that as much as 64% of UK law is influenced by EU directives and regulations. As a result, the effects of Brexit are likely to be more apparent in law than anywhere else.
Brexit and law degrees
Because practically every area of domestic law is shaped in some way by EU legislation, many university law modules courses feature aspects of the European legal system. Naturally, since the referendum result, law students across the country have voiced concerns about how useful these parts of their degrees will be in future.
Some modules will remain the same, others may be subject to change, and some may become less relevant. However, until Article 50 is triggered and the UK ceases to be a member state, we won’t know the extent to which law degrees will be affected. Below is a guide to the parts of your law course that might change as a result of Brexit.
As our relationship with Europe develops, a major overhaul of this foundational module is highly likely. At the moment, EU law is supreme, but when the UK leaves Europe, this may no longer be the case. A major debate within Constitutional Law is whether not the sovereignty of Parliament was sacrificed by the passing of the European Community Act 1972; it’s probable that the effects of Brexit on Parliamentary sovereignty will be an equally important topic of discussion.
Unsurprisingly, EU law is the area of law degrees in most danger. The importance of EU law modules will depend on the outcome of Brexit negotiations and our eventual relationship with the EU. While EU law is a core module on many courses, if it becomes less relevant, it might be relegated by some universities and become an optional rather than compulsory part of the syllabus.
What’s more, in the future, there may be no need for students to learn the directives and regulations that make up European law. However, as Europe is expected to remain one of the UK’s major trading partners, knowledge of its legal system will continue to be useful to budding lawyers.
Contract law will not be directly affected by Brexit. Although it’s possible that as other areas of the legal system undergo change, there may be a new set of conditions for interpretation of contracts that students will need to learn.
After leaving Europe, Parliament will no longer have to consider EU directives when legislating. Drastic changes to laws currently governed by the EU, such as the Consumer Protection Act 1987, are possible, particularly if Parliament is unrestricted in its ability to pass new legislation or amend existing tort law. Because of this, it’s essential that students keep up with current affairs so they’re aware of any legislative changes.
How else will law students feel the repercussions of Brexit?
It’s not only the syllabus of law degrees that may be affected by Brexit; opportunities to study abroad may also become less accessible. For almost 30 years, the Erasmus exchange scheme has given students, including law students, from across Europe the chance to broaden their horizons and spend a semester or year abroad during their degree.
Many students receive significant grants from the EU to fund their time in Europe; if Brexit results in cuts in funding for Erasmus participants, many could miss out. Prospective employers often view study abroad as an extremely attractive asset in candidates; unfortunately, it’s possible that some law students will be denied the opportunity to gain this experience.
Ultimately, we can only speculate about the outlook for current and future law students. While there’s definitely change on the legal horizon, it’s highly likely that the UK will still rely a great deal on its relations with the EU and, legally, much will remain the same.
Although, it is possible that EU law may no longer apply to the British legal system to the same extent. If this proves to the case, law courses across the country will be impacted. However, Article 50 negotiations are predicted to move slowly so any changes that do take place are unlikely to occur for another couple of years.
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