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On Monday 21st November 2016 The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) together with The Bar Council of England and Wales hosted a Conference for High Commissioners on the legal system of England and Wales at The Honourable Society of Inner Temple.

The Conference, well attended by High Commissioners and other members of the Diplomatic Corps, began with a welcome and introduction by Chantal-Aimee Doérries QC, Chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales and Patrick Maddams, Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple. Michael Lake CBE, Director of the RCS outlined key programmes and aims of the Society and emphasised the importance of the shared legal system and rule of law to the Commonwealth as outlined in the Commonwealth Charter (below).

‘We believe in the rule of law as an essential protection for the people of the Commonwealth and as an assurance of limited and accountable government. In particular we support an independent, impartial, honest and competent judiciary and recognise that an independent, effective and competent legal system is integral to upholding the rule of law, engendering public confidence and dispensing justice.’

Inner Temple Nov 2016

The conference, a training programme for the diplomatic corps began with Christian Wisskirchen, Head of International Policy at the Bar Council and Rupert D’Cruz, Vice-Chair of the International Committee of the Bar Council providing us with a succinct introduction to the legal system of England and Wales. Rupert and Christian primarily focused on the common law (the part of English law that is derived from custom and judicial precedent rather than statutes) and its advantages and successes whilst also outlining the importance of the legal market; legal professions and their regulation; the role and functions of the Bar Council and barristers; and the international work of barristers. In the discussion that followed one of the questioners asked whether there are any disadvantages of the common law system. Rupert D’Cruz responded that rather than disadvantages there was one main challenge and that was making the common law system cost effective.

Following a short break we were then joined by The Right Honourable the Lord Mance, Justice of the Supreme Court who delivered an introduction to the courts and judiciary. Lord Mance concentrated on the court structure, the function of the judiciary in England and Wales, constitutional setting, and provided comparative perspectives to selected Commonwealth jurisdictions. Lord Mance also outlined the importance of the judiciary to Commonwealth Member States highlighting that for 27 Commonwealth Countries, the Privy Council remains the final court of appeal.

Our final speaker of the day was David Green CB, QC, Director of the Serious Fraud Office who provided the High Commissioners with an update on developments in anti-corruption laws. He also provided examples of many high level cases with which the Serious Fraud Office is currently dealing and of particular interest to attendees was the Criminal Finances Bill. The Criminal Finances Bill is currently making its way through the UK Parliament and aims significantly to improve the UK government’s ability to tackle money laundering and corruption, recover the proceeds of crime and counter terrorist financing by way of unexplained wealth orders. This was seen by attendees as something tangible that could be adopted and utilised within other Commonwealth countries. It is through these common practices and legal systems that Commonwealth member states can share best practice and learn from each other.