Law: Single-minded on Europe's rules: Co-operation is the theme as lawyers meet to discuss limits the EC can place on national law

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The Independent Online
AN EXERCISE in international co-operation begins today in Dublin, in the shape of the annual conference of the Bar European Group (BEG). The session has been organised in conjunction with the Scottish Lawyers European Group and the Council of the Bar of Ireland.

Conor Quigley, chairman of the BEG, has played a large part in organising the conference. He sees it as an excellent opportunity to bring together barristers from the different jurisdictions. Some solicitors will also be coming to Dublin.

About 120 people are due to attend this year's conference - twice the number of previous years. Mr Quigley hopes 'the BEG conference will develop into an annual or biennial occasion for all groups interested in European law - barristers, solicitors and academics. This year's event is a bit of a test. If it is a success, we will consider such a joint venture in future'.

The speakers have deliberately been chosen from all the jurisdictions represented at the two-day conference. They include Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Lord Advocate (one of Scotland's most senior lawyers), John Temple Lang of the European Commission, a senior Irish lawyer, and Donal Barrington, a judge at the European Court of First Instance.

The theme is national law and the single market, particularly concentrating on limitations to judicial, legislative and economic policy. According to Mr Quigley, its purpose is to discover what can be retained of national and regional identities within the single market and how these are affected by EC law. 'The conference will explore what is left for member states, in terms of setting legislation and national economic policy, since the coming into operation of the single market.'

The first part of the conference examines the use of Community concepts in the national courts and the limitations placed on national economic policy by Community law. A subsequent session looks at the concept of proportionality, for example in Sunday trading cases, and the use of Community directives in the national courts.

Also on the agenda is an examination of national and regional identity and characteristics within the single market - for instance the right of Irish law to restrict abortion - and other public policy issues.

But, according to Mr Quigley, the conference is as much an opportunity for English, Scottish and Irish lawyers to meet. The key social events will be a dinner at Dublin Castle tonight and a reception at King's Inn tomorrow evening, hosted by the Council of the Bar of Ireland.

The Bar European Group was established 15 years ago to disseminate information on European law and promote the use of EC law in national courts. It has 600 members: barristers in independent practice, those employed in industry and government service, student barristers and judges.

The group runs a series of conferences and seminars throughout the year, including joint meetings with its counterpart, the Solicitors' European Group, and is involved in teaching European law to students at the Council for Legal Education (the Bar's law school).

The Dublin conference is being used to launch the BEG's journal, the European Advocate. 'We have had a newsletter for many years,' Mr Quigley says, 'but this will have new publishers and a new format. It will also be available to the public. It will be aimed at everyone interested in the use of European law in the courts in any jurisdiction.'

In effect the BEG is an autonomous organisation, although officially it is a specialist association of the Bar, and thus has representation on the Bar Council in the shape of an ex-officio member. 'We work very closely with the council's international practice committee in its European efforts,' says Mr Quigley.

At the moment the burning issues that face the group are, first, developing the concept of proportionality in national courts, and second, developing effective remedies in national courts, particularly rights to damages for breach of Community law. According to Mr Quigley, 'A number of cases are coming up in the near future in which those rights are being sought to be established in the English courts.'

The BEG has had some success in heightening awareness of European law among non-specialist barristers. 'This is evidenced by the number of chambers that, in the past five or six years, have taken on barristers who specialise in the field, to some extent. Most chambers employ someone who is at least aware of the process of European law,' says Mr Quigley. 'But there is also a flourishing specialist European Bar.'

Mr Quigley, himself a specialist practising from chambers in Gray's Inn, also holds a fellowship in European law at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, endowed by the City law firm Penningtons. 'The post fits naturally with my European law practice and it enables me to specialise completely.'