Rt. Hon. Kenneth Clarke MP Raises Concerns About European Contract Law

Lord Chancellor And Secretary Of State For Justice Rt. Hon Kenneth Clarke MP

CityUK Future Litigation event Clifford Chance - 14 September 2011


Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It's a great pleasure to see before me today the leading figures in UK commercial legal services and share with you my views on the future of litigation.

We stand together in this splendid building, the product of what Mervyn King has called the NICE - non-inflationary, consistently expansionary - years. But noone can be unaware of rumblings in the global economy, or the hangover of high debt and low growth that continues to trouble the US and Europe.

If we are to continue down the path to prosperity, not just austerity, government needs to play its part in boosting the economy. The Coalition has made an excellent start by re-establishing our fiscal credibility after Labour's unsustainable spending binge. The priority now is to continue with broader, structural reform.

In justice, there are two areas where we must make progress that I want to highlight this morning.

The first is promoting industry. I place enormous value on UK legal services, which are world-class, but I think we can do more to ensure they thrive. I am almost as much of an enthusiast for English law as I am for English cricket. That's why I am keen to go in to bat with UKTI, the CityUK, the Law Society, the Bar Council and others, on your behalf.

The second area is modernising the justice system. One lesson from my long and much reshuffled career is that it is essential that policy-makers don't waste the opportunities that crisis presents. The UK faces a number of long-standing problems that weigh down on out competitiveness but that have in the past been put in the too difficult pile - be it the operation of welfare, planning, pensions or, in my case, the legal system.

If we're serious about growth, it is only by taking action in these areas that we can make a long-term difference to the economy, not by pursuing the fiscal chimeras so beloved of our political opponents.

The UK's system of civil and criminal justice has many strengths but is also somewhat old-fashioned and bureaucratic, and doesn't always work well for the public, or for business. Putting that right is of course important in its own right. But it is also an economic imperative...

Popular attention has understood my reforms for the justice system through the lens of their impact on legal aid, sentencing, and the aftermath of the riots. Vital though these things are, the case I want to make is that they are part of a broader picture: a government supporting the business of law; a legal system supporting the business of growth

Promoting law as a business

Let me start with our plans to help UK legal services. It's been said, but bears repeating, that the rule of law is one of our greatest exports. This reflects, in part, our national genius for legal services, which generated nearly 2% of UK GDP in 2009 – a rather healthy £23 billion. Exports of law firms totalled more than £3bn in the same year, nearly three times the total of a decade earlier.

Our competitive advantage reflects many things: our open market, the unrivalled quality of the UK...

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