Philip Moser QC, Chairman of the Bar European Group
Welcome to the annual conference of the Bar European Group.
Our theme this year is “EU-UK Relations Law and Practice”.
This is a special year in at least two respects: it is the first in-person conference after the Covid pandemic, something we never realised could be remarkable. When we met in Gdansk three years ago we did not think that a BEG conference might not be held ‘in person’.
This conference also marks the 45th anniversary of BEG, founded by David Vaughan and Stephen O’Malley in the Summer of 1977. This incidentally makes us the oldest continuously existing specialist bar association of the Bar of England and Wales.
I am very proud to be the 24th Chairman of BEG, and I am pleased to see we also have with us: the 10th, Nicholas Paines, the 12th, Nicholas Green, the 14th, Eleanor Sharpston, the 15th, David Lloyd Jones, and the 23rd chairman, Kieron Beal.
This is our 35th annual conference and the 33rd held overseas, the first having been in Brussels in 1987, and then in an unbroken line until Granada 2020, the conference that never was, although we did have an annual conference later in 2020 and one in 2021, both online, and both with record attendances.
This is the 2nd time that we have been to Austria, after Vienna in 1996, and the 1st time in Salzburg, home of Mozart and The Sound of Music. The last time we came to this country was just after Austrian accession to the EU – this year we come shortly after the UK’s departure from the EU.
Despite this change in circumstances, the Bar European Group has found its members busier than ever in our specialist field. We also have found no need to alter our constitutional purpose. The BEG Constitution was drafted by a Working Group that met in July 1977, during The Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and which included such luminaries as Jonathan Mance, Peter Goldsmith, Francis Jacobs, Claire Tritton and one John Thomas, and I am delighted that Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd is also here with us today. This year, in Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee year and Year 2 AB (“After Brexit”), I looked at that Constitution and found that the wisdom of the Working Group means we remain constitutionally equipped for the era of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
Thus, our objects include:
- To promote and disseminate throughout the European Communities and Member and other states the understanding and knowledge of the Bar of England and Wales, and in particular its function and the services it offers;
- To cultivate relationships between members of the Bar of England and Wales and lawyers of the European Communities and Member and other states; and
- To promote the understanding of the law of the European Community and Member and other states and the relationship between the various laws and practices and problems arising out of the same.
And I look forward to us doing all of that this weekend.
We also meet of course at a time of war in Europe, with the Ukrainian border being about the same distance by road from this conference venue as Brussels and about the same distance by air as Luxembourg. Professor Fryderyk Zoll, for instance, joins us from doing humanitarian work on the Polish/Ukrainian border.
At this time, the rule of law, a favourite topic of our late President John Laws, acquires particular significance, specifically the European and Common Law tradition of respect for basic rights and freedoms, which in the words of the US Constitution are rights we hold to be self-evident.
That is echoed in the words of the Preamble to the European Convention on Human Rights, that it is our:
“profound belief in those fundamental freedoms which are the foundation of justice and peace in the world and are best maintained on the one hand by an effective political democracy and on the other by a common understanding and observance of the Human Rights upon which they depend.”
Whatever the legal problems that may have arisen over Brexit, we know that as European lawyers we are united by those principles, and I look forward to our discussions being held in that spirit.
It is also my hope that in the not too distant future we may be holding a BEG conference in Lviv or in Kyiv, in a free and peaceful Ukraine.
The theme of this 35th BEG conference is “EU-UK Relations Law and Practice” and it is fitting that the keynote speech is titled “The Court of Justice of the European Union – A Bridge over Troubled Water”.
I am shortly going to hand over to former CJEU Judge Christopher Vajda QC to introduce our keynote speaker, Judge Andreas Kumin.
Christopher of course requires no introduction: he was the UK’s last Judge at the Court of Justice, from 2012 to 2020. He is a professor at the College of Europe in Bruges and a visiting professor at King’s College, London and upon his return from Luxembourg is once again practising from Monckton Chambers doing advisory work and arbitration.
As I hand over, let me conclude by thanking the Chambers who have contributed to the scholarships for the John and Sophie Laws scholars, our sponsors Alix Partners and our wonderful organiser, Wendy Taylor. I wish you all a successful conference and a most enjoyable time here in Austria.