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Criminal justice researchers play a crucial role in Brexit preparations

Top legal thinkers have advised Parliament that to keep citizens safe at home and abroad the UK must continue criminal justice cooperation with the EU. Their recommendations are informing Parliament’s work to improve Brexit policy and legislation, and many have been reflected in subsequent Government policy statements.

The House of Commons Justice Committee cross-examined expert witnesses about these issues for its inquiry into the implications that leaving the EU in March 2019 will have on the justice system. Professor Tim J Wilson, Professor of Criminal Justice Policy at Northumbria Law School, was among the witnesses that presented evidence to the Justice Committee in January 2017.

The Committee had gathered Professor Wilson and other witnesses to discuss the impact of Brexit on the UK’s justice system, considering the European Arrest Warrant, Europol and Eurojust. In that meeting, Professor Wilson advised that post-Brexit criminal justice cooperation avoid selectivity and instead take advantage of EU arrangements in their entirety. This point carried weight with the Committee Chair Robert Neill MP and was backed by fellow witnesses Francis FitzGibbon QC, Chair of the Criminal Bar Association and Michael Gray, of Gray and Co Solicitors, who is Chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association.

Professor Wilson was invited to give an oral testimony to MPs based on written evidence submitted by the Northumbria Centre for Evidence and Criminal Justice Studies (NCECJS) to the Justice Committee at the end of 2016. This evidence called for UK/EU cooperation to continue, noting that the EU international criminal justice system is not only the most effective in the world, but one that operates with respect to the autonomy of national legal systems.

A major point highlighted in the NCECJS report was that Brexit would not have a significant impact on the ability of criminals to enter the UK from the EU and beyond, therefore international criminal justice and security cooperation should continue to ensure crimes are prevented and offenders are brought to justice. The NCECJS emphasised the importance of maintaining criminal justice and security cooperation agreements within a comprehensive framework, supported by Europol and Eurojust and subject to parliamentary and legal examination. The research warned that opting-out of arrangements such as Prüm (the automated exchange of fingerprints, DNA and vehicle ownership data), the European Criminal Records Information System and the European Arrest Warrant “would be inexplicable and may prove to be reckless”.

NCECJS research is based on extensive empirical investigations, including meetings with criminal justice professionals and events organised with colleagues in the UK, Poland, Latvia and Bulgaria, in addition to an analysis of EU and UK official publications and academic literature. Importantly, this work has been mentioned in both the Official Report of the House of Commons Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) in January 2017 and the Justice Committee Report in March 2017. This research is making a distinctive contribution to the debate about post-Brexit criminal justice cooperation and its influence is expected to continue as the Brexit process is scrutinised by Parliament.

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