In March 2001, the first new circuit to be created in some 300 years was inaugurated in a ceremony in the Old Hall, Lincoln’s Inn. Despite the traditional surroundings, the event was ground-breaking in several key respects.
The European Circuit has been created to address the realities of the 21st century, in which there is a greater contact than ever before between lawyers in different jurisdictions within Europe. Given this fact, it was felt that there was a growing need for a forum for those lawyers in which to meet and discuss practical matters arising from this increased trans-border activity.
Circuits have been part of the English landscape since the twelfth century and the term “Circuit” represented the tour of particular towns carried out by the King’s judges. Traditionally, circuits for barristers have fulfilled three important roles. The first has been to allow members of the Circuit, from the lowest pupil to the most senior Silk, to get to know each other and be the source of practical information, useful to individual practitioners. The second has been to act as an informal regulator of discipline. The third has been to lobby Bars on behalf of Circuit members.
The European Circuit is keen to ensure that these traditional roles are continued. There is clearly much to be said for like-minded practitioners getting together. Much can be learnt from such meetings and potential difficulties overcome. There is also an informal regulatory role in an area where the rules are not necessarily well-established and/or where lawyers coming from different legal traditions may not be fully aware of the relevant practice rules in the country in which they are practising. The importance of being able to lobby relevant institutions with one voice should also not be underrated. There are examples of bar rules which tend to benefit “local” practitioners and thereby disadvantage “foreign” practitioners. In such situations, there is a great benefit to having a common approach taken to try to resolve the problem.