The British Council, Governance and law

Council publications in law

Law policy


The UK has two legal systems: one is shared by England, Wales and (with minor variants) Northern Ireland; the other is unique to Scotland. Although each system has evolved independently to create differing structures and procedures, both systems have contributed to the development of the other. The British Council works closely with both systems, and promotes equally their international interests

UK capability in the sector

The Common Law Heritage
The British Common Law Model has been adopted by many countries throughout the world. There is thus much common ground which lawyers can share with their counterparts in Britain.

Training Approaches
The shared experience of legal systems and the English language gives Britain a comparative advantage in legal training. Practical skills training in particular, and the development of sophisticated legal information retrieval systems are both areas where Britain is predominant.

Commercial Law
English law is frequently selected by foreign contracting parties to govern their relationship. This is because English law and the English judicial system are held in high regard throughout the world. London is a major seat of international commercial arbitration with legal services generating foreign earnings of hundreds of millions sterling annually.

Even those companies operating in non-Common Law jurisdictions rely upon British legal resources to facilitate international trade. Expertise in organisation, training and management could also be of interest to law firms in other countries, especially those based in other EU states.

Professional Standards

The legal profession in Britain is committed to the highest standards of ethics and integrity, and to the furtherance of the rule of law for the benefit of society.

The profession is divided into two main groups: solicitors and barristers (advocates in Scotland) who practise in both the public and private sector.

British advocates are internationally renowned. They make a major contribution to assisting government, investors and lawyers in the development of new approaches to legal problems within overseas' jurisdictions.


The Scottish legal system has its own independent history and is a separate jurisdiction in international law. Although Scots law owes much to the civil tradition, it is now comparable in many respects to Anglo-American common law eg. in contract and commercial law, and in its approach to precedent.

Northern Ireland

The divided culture in Northern Ireland has inevitably resulted in its legal institutions acquiring a high degree of expertise in matters associated with terrorism, inter-communal violence and conflict resolution. This experience could help their counterparts in countries with similar problems.

Judiciary and Judicial Training

Judicial skills training has undergone major development in Britain in recent years. The Judicial Studies Board (JSB) in particular has been active in expanding and improving its arrangements for training full-time and part-time judges, magistrates and those who sit in tribunals. It is now sharing this know-how with other institutions in England which provide popular courses in judicial skills for judges from overseas.

The Council has also been active in heightening awareness of gender-related issues among the judiciary and other lawyers, through the running of tailor-made programmes for overseas judges. These include skills-based training in Court Administration, Mediation, Alternative Dispute Resolution and Legislative Drafting.

Through their role in Permanent Tribunals and Ad Hoc Commissions of Enquiry, lawyers can act as independent and objective arbitrators and advisers in matters of wide public interest.

Policing and Prisons

The Council has traditionally been involved in a range of police training which has concentrated on Command and Control issues. The development of Britain as a multi-cultural society has brought with it new specialisms in areas such as multi-cultural policing, consultation and accountability, as well as new guidelines for styles of policing and public order.

Britain has much to offer in terms of alternatives to prison through its enlightened approach to penal reform. The British Council has a wide network of contacts in this field including organisations representing the interests of both prisoners and victims.

Promoting Access to the Law

In many developing countries, poverty and ignorance are traditional barriers to securing legal advice and redress. These barriers have been largely overcome in Britain through a combination of specific initiatives:

Academic Resources

British universities house many of the world's foremost legal specialists, often enjoying long-established links with overseas countries. The law schools have a vital contribution to make in both the quality of their legal training at undergraduate and post-graduate level, as well as in the field of Continuing Professional Development.

This has resulted in an expansion of the UK legal community to include independent training providers and law-firm training managers, thereby creating further opportunities for the export of British legal skills.

Sponsors' objectives

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
To contribute to good government through a commitment to human rights and the rule of law; to target high-flyers and influential decision-makers in both the public and private sectors; to help promote Britain's invisible exports, especially through international litigation and commercial law.

Department for International Development (DFID)
To contribute to: good government through a commitment to human rights and the rule of law; gender issues; the law and social development; promoting access to the law; modernising legal systems; conflict resolution; mobilising and strengthening civil society via advocacy training.

British Council objectives in the law

Traditionally, much of the Council's work in the law has focused on formal legal training and the development of networks of influential lawyers. In recent years, the scope has been widened in line with our sponsors' objectives. Today, the British Council is involved in a range of issues which relate as much to those who are affected by the law as to those who make and administer it.

Initiatives in this category which are funded by the Council include:

Areas of special interest to the Council are:

British Council resources in the legal sector


British Council's work in this sector reflects the diverse nature of the law and includes initiatives in the following areas:

Means of delivery

The Council does not give legal advice. It undertakes activity which enables key individuals to work together, to study each others systems, and to consider what is best practice under local conditions. Within its Governance team at headquarters the Council has a legal specialist, a part of whose role is to develop the skills of operational teams working in this sector overseas.

The Council's work in the law is supported by a Law Advisory Committee. UK legal specialists who make up the Committee include representatives from the International Division of the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Law Society and the Bar, and the Legal Adviser to the FCO. The Committee is also served by development and human rights specialists. In addition, the Committee has an invaluable public relations role for the Council's work in the law.

The Council's network of overseas offices play a key role in bringing together public and private, governmental and non-governmental sectors. Expertise is also transferred from one country to another through the link between British Council Headquarters and the overseas office network. Professionals can be brought together from the UK, globally and regionally to share experiences.

With Council support UK and overseas universities have established links to support the exchange of staff and expertise in Law and Governance. This builds overseas capacity in research, training and curriculum development. The Council also organises conferences, seminars, study visits, and other exchanges which enable UK and overseas specialists to share experiences.

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Produced in Britain by the British Council
© The British Council 1997

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