The British Council, Governance and law

Law: Law in the UK

Routes to Professional Qualification



The United Kingdom (UK) contains three separate legal systems, namely those of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Each system has its own legal profession and its own separate laws. The legal systems in England and Wales are based on common law, that is to say, they are systems in which judge-made law is accorded a special status. The legal systems of England, Wales and Northern Ireland are very similar. Scottish law is a mixture of civil law and common law systems. Its development has been influenced in the past by Roman law. In more recent times, the greater influence has been Common law. While there are similarities in many areas between Scottish laws and those of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, major differences remain, particularly in the law of property, the law of contract and criminal law.

The legal profession in the UK is divided into two distinct branches: solicitors and barristers (in Scotland 'advocates'). Most lawyers are solicitors: in England and Wales they number some 65,000, in comparison with 8,000 barristers. Solicitors undertake legal business, including the transfer of immovable property, while the main function of barristers is to conduct cases in court. They also provide specialist advice. Only barristers may at present appear before the superior courts, although this position is currently under review.

There is a long tradition of people studying law in the UK, but if you are thinking of coming to study here, you should first contact the professional association of the legal profession in your own country, to find out what the implications are of having a British degree in law. You may, for example, need to undertake further training on returning to your own country, or you may be able to cover subjects compulsory in your country by selecting them from options available at some UK institutions. You should also seek advice if you intend to complete a professional qualification.

Where EC countries are concerned, 1992 introduced free movement of people, which made it easier for lawyers to work in each others' countries. A directive in 1991 required professional bodies to compile outlines of requirements for re-qualification in countries other than the country of qualification. This is usually done by means of an aptitude test. The Law Society (for solicitors) and the Council of Legal Education (for barristers) have produced such outlines, and copies are available from them in the form of information packs on request.






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