Experts from St Petersburg University have joined the 7th BRICS Legal Forum 2020. Among the topics discussed at the forum this year are: the formation of a democratic legal order; the enhancement of legal cooperation within BRICS, especially in critical situations, such as the fight against COVID-19; the improvement of the quality of legal education; and the development of legal institutions in the age of the digital transformation of society.

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The BRICS Legal Forum serves as an open, permanent platform for legal cooperation and sharing of professional experience and best practices among lawyers from the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

The participants emphasised the importance of international cooperation during the COVID19 pandemic. An unprecedented crisis that we are facing today made the world search for new instruments, including legal ones, to protect citizens and societies, and to preserve human rights and freedoms. During the plenary session, its moderator Vladimir Pligin, Chairman of the Association of Lawyers of Russia, read out greetings from Dmitry

Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation and

Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Association of Lawyers of Russia. In his address, Dmitry Medvedev reminded that due to the current situation with the COVID-19 virus, many legal institutions and structures should be viewed differently. ‘At the forum, you will have to discuss COVID-19's near-term and long-term implications for law and legal practice. It is vital that the interests of the BRICS nations and stability in our societies remain our priority. Only through joint efforts can we find a solution to the challenge of establishing a new just legal order. Your well-coordinated work is crucial for the creation and adoption of new effective legal instruments of economic cooperation and social interaction between our states.’

The experts noted that, despite COVID-19 related challenges, cooperation among the five nations never stopped. Collective action to contain the spread of COVID-19 and protect the lives and health of the population came to the fore. The forum participants were also addressed by Vladimir Gruzdev, Chairman of the Board of the Association of Lawyers of Russia. ‘The eternal question is: what is more important – the rights of a citizen or the priorities of society.’ Today’s agenda is about striking the right balance of interests. The authorities have to navigate the delicate balance between protecting our health and safeguarding our vital freedoms and individual needs. Vladimir Gruzdev noted that the restrictions imposed due the coronavirus crisis required codification of norms and standards. They should be integrated into dedicated legislation, possibly even into a single legislative act, within countries and across borders.

In the spring of 2020, St Petersburg University launched a helpline to offer advice on the ongoing changes in business regulation and supervision. St Petersburg University’s experts advise business representatives free of charge on the new rules for inspections and interaction with regulatory authorities in the remote mode.

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The experts pointed out that differences in legal systems and approaches between the BRICS countries did not hinder joint decision-making. On the contrary, they enable finding new solutions and opportunities, and re-starting the traditional mechanisms. Mingqi Zhang, Vice President of the China Law Society, noted that our countries were doing their best to conquer the pandemic. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been: a shared recognition of our common interests around the world; an awareness of the need to unite our efforts for solving the urgent problems and the development of a global economy; and a spirit of mutual goodwill and solidarity. According to Mingqi Zhang, the rule of law is to serve as a weapon to protect the legal order, even in such a difficult time.

At the forum, much attention was devoted to the development of law schools. Sergei Belov, the Dean of the Faculty of Law at St Petersburg University, noted that conservatism was inherent in both legal education and legal practice. Nonetheless, higher education institutions attempt to respond to current challenges in the most efficient manner.

On the one hand, universities should instil in future lawyers the notion that they are to become custodians of values. This is because law preserves the traditions and values of society, defines them, and maintains a balance between individualism and social responsibility. Sergei Belov reminded: ‘Since ancient times, law has been called the art of goodness and fairness.’ On the other hand, the modern law schools train professionals who are adaptable, who are able to deal with the unexpected, whether it be emergency circumstances, such as a global pandemic, or the rapid introduction of modern information technologies.

Training of legal professionals in a digital economy requires a higher standard of education. We pay much attention to the interdisciplinary collaboration between social sciences and humanities.

Sergei Belov, Dean of the Faculty of Law at St Petersburg University

Han Yinghui, Vice President of Beijing Bar Association, Partner at Chang Tsi & Partners, spoke about technologies in jurisprudence. ‘The most valuable asset of a modern lawyer is time. Therefore, we must learn to use technologies in legal practice, such as artificial intelligence and big data. This will significantly improve the quality of services we provide.’ Indeed, the importance of the development of advanced information technologies for the BRICS members was highlighted at the BRICS summit 2020. The five countries agreed to collaborate in order to unleash the potential of artificial intelligence, blockchain, big data and 5G networks.

In 2020, St Petersburg University started admitting applications for the master's degree programme ‘Transnational Legal Practice’. The programme is designed to train practitioners to provide legal support to multinational companies. This is the first law programme offered by St Petersburg University to be taught entirely in English.

Sergey Olennikov, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Law at St Petersburg University, stressed that the idea of a common education area, which has been employed to overcome barriers mostly within a given country, could also be used for closer collaboration within the community of the BRICS nations. This can be implemented through the exchange of scientific ideas, schools, and joint projects. St Petersburg University is taking steps in this direction. Thus, according to Sergey Olennikov, internationalisation plays a significant role in the development strategy of the university legal education. St Petersburg University is steadily increasing the number of academic programmes taught in a foreign language and programmes with a ‘foreign component’, attracting more and more students and lecturers from overseas.

The second direction of development of the legal education at St Petersburg University is interdisciplinarity. Several academic programmes with an ‘eastern component’ are being currently implemented. One of them is ‘Jurisprudence (with an In-Depth Study of the Chinese Language and Legal System)’. The curriculum is designed to include interdisciplinary studies – not only law, but also: language; culture; history; ethnopsychology; and socio-economic system of the PRC. The graduates are in demand in both the domestic and international labour markets, focusing on providing legal support for economic and political cooperation between countries.

‘The approach adopted at the University facilitates the development of similar legal institutions and common principles. It is paving the way for closer cooperation between the legal communities of our countries,’ said Sergey Olennikov. Vladimir Pligin, Chairman of the Association of Lawyers of Russia, supported his views: ‘Through our graduates, we will be able to project a unified vision of the value of law and the principles of law in our countries.’

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