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EXPERT COMMENT: Parliamentary report about Brexit and the justice system welcomed by Northumbria Academic

22nd March 2017

Tim Wilson, Professor of Criminal Justice Policy in Northumbria Law School , has welcomed the publication today of the House of Commons Justice Committee report Implications of Brexit for the justice system by commenting:

"Days before Article 50 negotiations are initiated, the report contains a timely reminder of the risks for this country and our European partners if this process goes badly."

The future relationship between the UK and EU is often presented as a simple choice between ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit. Such views do not convey to many people – whether as UK citizens or residents – how ‘crashing out’ of the EU could be damaging to our daily lives. For example, the Committee notes a warning from the National Crime Agency that the loss of access to SIS II (the Second Generation Schengen Information System) “would seriously inhibit the UK’s ability to identify and arrest people who pose a threat to public safety and security and make sure that they are brought to justice”. 

Some of the context for this is provided by a reference in the report to research by Northumbria University’s Centre for Evidence and Criminal Justice Studies (NCECJS) into how the EU has created the most comprehensive and effective system of criminal justice cooperation in the world.

The report also begins to correct some of the urban myths about such cooperation, such as claims that the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is used to deal with Polish bicycle thieves. As NCECJS evidence submitted jointly with the Criminal Bar Association and Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association to the Committee explained, this measure is important for preventing any EU country from becoming a safe haven for foreign criminals responsible for serious offences.

The Committee highlights the value of investigative resources in Europol and Eurojust, for supporting UK police, prosecutors and judges and notes evidence from a range of sources about information-sharing tools, giving rapid access to foreign suspects’ criminal records and biometric information. Its general conclusion about criminal justice and Brexit is that:

“Continued criminal justice cooperation is a critical justice priority for Brexit negotiations: it impacts upon the safety of citizens, of both the UK and the rest of the EU. Cross-border solutions are required to combat the growth of transnational crimes.”

As the committee has noted in this report Government Ministers including the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, have expressed similar views in recent months about the importance of retaining access to specific measures, such as the EAW, or replicating generally the existing security and criminal justice arrangements that came with EU membership.

The report, however, does not shy away from the many challenge faced by the negotiators, irrespective of the Government’s expressed intentions, if criminal justice cooperation is not to be disrupted when UK leaves the EU. For instance, it refers to a suggestion made by Professor Wilson in oral evidence to the Committee that the UK and EU should seek to freeze some arrangements beyond that date “so that we do not move down to inferior types of arrangements for a transitional period”. It also refers to evidence that continued information sharing will be contingent on UK data protection standards being compliant with EU law. Possibly most radically of all, in the present divisive political climate and focused primarily on commercial law, the Committee has commented that within a post-Brexit UK:  

“… a role for CJEU [the Court of Justice of the European Union]  in respect of essentially procedural legislation concerning jurisdiction, applicable law, and the recognition and enforcement of judgments, is a price worth paying to maintain the effective cross-border tools of justice … .”

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