Lawyers seeking Euro bridges

November 25, 1994

Pan-European understanding and collaboration may be looming large in the minds of most professionals, but in the case of lawyers in the United Kingdom and across the Continent it is more a matter of mutual incomprehension.

Legal systems in the member states are so varied and knowledge of them among practitioners so limited that co-operation can often seem impossible.

Oxford University is planning to help resolve this problem with the creation of a centre for the advanced study of European and comparative law, which aims to arm the profession with the training, research and international partnerships needed to fill a serious knowledge gap.

The centre has been established within the university's Institute of European Studies, which is itself part of the Oxford Europaeum, a postgraduate leadership school networked through a growing number of educational institutions in Europe.

It has been set a formal primary task of breaking down the barriers between national legal systems, and to reduce misunderstandings between the UK and her partners in mainland Europe, by fostering the study of European community law and bringing together the study of common and civil law.

From an academic's point of view, the centre has an exciting potential to become a "legal ideas hothouse", says Roy Goode, Norton Rose professor of English law, who has been one of the chief architects of the project.

He expects to see collaboration in teaching and research between Oxford and law schools across Europe and with law firms with conceptual problems to address as well as the practical.

Such conceptual conundrums may be easier to resolve through international co-operation and debate, but as the chairman of Oxford's faculty of law board, Paul Davies, points out, it is important in the first place "to understand where the German lawyer on the other end of the phone is coming from".

A generally low level of EU law training on most law degree courses has led many legal firms seeking people with an understanding of other European systems to hire foreign language students, he said.

The university has drawn up a Pounds 6 million shopping list for the funding of posts in the centre and the refurbishment of accommodation, but Professor Goode expects enough money will be raised by the beginning of the next academic year.

Mr Davies and Professor Goode believe one of the main strengths of the centre will be the interdisciplinary approach it will take, capitalising on its position as an integral part of the Institute of European Studies.

There are also plans for a joint law degree between Oxford and Leiden University, in the Netherlands.

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