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Enhancing UK-Irish criminal justice cooperation after Brexit

The UK leaving the EU presents new challenges for criminal justice cooperation. Before the announcement of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement in December 2020, failure to reach a deal on cross-border criminal justice cooperation between the UK and Ireland would have created cumbersome new layers of bureaucracy. These would have included complicated extradition procedures for criminals and suspects between the jurisdictions, challenges to border security between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the loss of access to EU criminal justice tools and databases. Organised crime and terrorist groups would be able to exploit these blind spots with enduring and dangerous consequences. The threat of No-Deal was a worst-case scenario that has thankfully been avoided.

Gemma Davies, from Northumbria University Law School, took her expertise and research findings on criminal justice and the retention and sharing of criminal record information to the key criminal justice agencies in October 2017. Working with Professor Katy Hayward of Queen’s University Belfast, Davies brought together a unique combination of these agencies from across the UK and Ireland into a new collaborative network, the UK-Irish Criminal Justice Cooperation Network (The Network) in October 2018.

The Network created a non-political, practitioner-focused space for agencies and professionals to create inter-agency cooperative networks and procedures and embed relationships and a collaborative culture. 

During 2018-2020, Davies led a series of Network workshops to co-create research and policy proposals, working directly with the people doing the hands-on work of operating criminal justice agencies. Their work highlighted how the political negotiations had not prepared for the implications that a return to a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would have for criminal justice. It demonstrated that the risks included increased smuggling and terrorism. 

The Network has strengthened both new and existing criminal justice connections between the UK and Ireland and created policy briefings for the policymakers making proposals directly to the power brokers in government for the future of the UK-Ireland border and collaboration.

Davies brought these policy briefings to Westminster, working intensively with the UK Parliament and negotiation teams over the crucial final stages of negotiations in late 2020. On December 24th, just days before the final deadline, when a disastrous No Deal outcome was looking more likely, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement was signed, including a new security partnership between the countries. A report on this new security partnership, Cross-border co-operation on policing, security and criminal justice after Brexit, published in April 2020 directly cites and quotes Davies’ contribution 62 times. 

Davies’ engagement with the criminal justice agencies has been integral in shaping the vital new security infrastructure that will define criminal cooperation between the UK and Ireland for the future.

Some of the key agencies involved in The Network include: 

  • Policing representatives from ACRO Criminal Records Office; the NPCC International Crime Co-ordination Centre; An Garda Síochána (and the inspectorate); Police Service of Northern Ireland; Police Scotland; Counter Terrorism Borders Operations Centre and the Policing Authority, Ireland.
  • Prosecutor representatives from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Ireland; Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal, Scotland; Department of Justice and Equality, NI; Attorney General’s Office, NI; Crown Solicitor’s Office, NI; Public Prosecution Service of NI; Office of the Attorney General, Ireland; Crown Prosecution Service and Home Office, UK.
  • Policy representatives from the House of Commons library; Department of Justice and Equality, Ireland; Department of Justice, NI; Executive Office, NI; the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the EU; the Scottish Government; and the British Embassy in Dublin. There was also representation from HM Revenue and Customs, Belfast and Office of the Revenue Commissioners, Ireland.

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