A coffee break with… Timothy Lyons

November 2021

This is a “coffee break” article from CCRM's new series featuring thought leaders in the field of customs.

I’m delighted to speaking with Timothy Lyons, a barrister and Queen’s Counsel (England and Wales), a barrister in the Republic of Ireland and a member of the Bar of Brussels. Those studying EU customs law as well as customs practitioners will most likely know Timothy through his book, EU Customs Law, published by the Oxford EU Law Library.

Jessica: Timothy, thank you for making time to create this coffee break article for our readers. You are well known to those of us working in the field of customs in the UK and the EU, but for the people who have not had the pleasure of meeting you yet, please could you describe what you do?

Timothy: It’s a great pleasure for me to contribute. I am instructed by professionals around the EU to give opinions on law - customs, trade and tax law especially, to draft documents such as letters to customs and tax authorities, and to represent clients before courts and tribunals. Then, of course, I write when I have the time.

Jessica: I’m often told that customs is a niche field. Some people choose to be a part of it, others accidentally end up in this field. What made you decide to specialise in customs and trade law?

Timothy: Quite a long time ago, an Advocate General in the CJEU asked me to write a book on EU customs law. I accepted the offer and since that time customs and trade have been a very important part of my practice. It’s an area that requires one to deal with EU law and the law of Member States as well as, now, UK law, but to do so in the context of global trade and international relations. That is a very interesting context in which to work.

Jessica: Let’s talk about your book, EU Customs Law. It is very extensive and many of us working in customs see it as an indispensable tool. How did you find time to write this book? And are you already preparing for the 4th edition?

Timothy: I’m not sure how I found the time to write the book. It seemed to involve working through the night so that my clients were kept happy during the day. As for the 4th edition, yes that will appear in due course. There is a lot of work to do. The new edition will deal with Brexit and the EU/UK TCA, and it will have to take account of new developments such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism as well. I am also going to add in more material on EU integration and the customs union and extend the coverage of economics.

Jessica: In the initial chapters of your book, as well as in your other publications on customs unions, you highlight that a customs union does not only have customs purposes but could also be a tool for peace. Could you elaborate on this?

Timothy: Yes, this is for me an important issue. The EEC, as it once was, was founded on a customs union. The customs union is still a major part of the foundations of the EU. It is an economic arrangement with a purpose which is concerned with much more than economics. Its aim is to facilitate the integration of economies so that poor relations between different countries can never result in outright hostility. Customs practitioners and officials really do play a fundamental role in the European project.

Jessica: Finally, what advice would you give to someone looking to grow their career in customs and trade? For example, what are the skills they should be developing?

Timothy: Well, I’m not sure that I would want to tell people what to do, I do no more than share my experience. For me, customs and trade require a combination of intellectual rigour, practical awareness and broadly-based thinking. They are the same qualities that one needs in many areas of life. In addition, it helps to keep in mind that, even when dealing with technical matters like classification or origin, one is not just dealing with a technical matter. One is dealing with a trader and consumers for whom these matters are economically vital. And one is dealing with issues which go to the heart of the EU. That is what makes customs so fascinating.

Timothy will be speaking at a virtual book event on 16 December 2021. Don’t miss the chance to learn more about Timothy’s work then!

This article was written by Jessica Yang (Director, JY XBorder Consulting Ltd) and Timothy Lyons (Barrister and Queen's Counsel (England and Wales)). The article first appeared in CCRM Journal for Practitioners in Europe, Issue 11, October / November 2021