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Leaving the EU: UK Legal System

Volume 632: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2017

1. What steps the Government plan to take to ensure the effective operation of the UK legal system after the UK leaves the EU. (902740)

17. What steps the Government plan to take to ensure the effective operation of the UK legal system after the UK leaves the EU. (902756)

The Government have made it a top priority to ensure that there is a smooth legal transition, both in our negotiations with the EU and as a matter for our domestic implementing legislation.

What steps will the Department take once we have left the EU to secure a review and possible reversal of European Court of Justice rulings that are affecting British companies and citizens?

We are taking back control over our laws—that is what the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill does—so that hon. Members in this House are properly accountable to the voters and the UK Supreme Court has the last word on the law of the land. From that point on, we can retain, revise or repeal any piece of retained law as we see fit for the British national interest.

The Minister may have seen the recent TheCityUK report, which underlined the importance of the legal sector to the United Kingdom’s economy and the City. Will the Minister update the House on the negotiations in respect of the report’s principal concern, which is whether contracts will continue to be enforceable and respected across the European Union after we leave?

In our negotiations with the EU, we have made it clear—for example, in our position paper on civil and judicial co-operation—that we want to maintain that win-win co-operation in areas such as recognition of contractual judgments, but also on decisions in family law disputes that support businesses and individuals on all sides.

Will the Minister get out and meet more people in the justice system? I have been talking to judges, barristers and campaigners who are all terrified about what will happen to our justice system if we leave the European Union. Who is he talking to, and why does he not broaden his circle?

May I gently suggest that the hon. Gentleman does not engage in such scaremongering? I have been talking to practitioners, legal groups and the judiciary. We have set out our plans in our position paper, and I would have thought that he would welcome that. Through the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which I hope he will support, we will make sure that we have a smooth legal transition.

Will the Minister confirm to the House that it is his policy that the European Court of Human Rights will still have jurisdiction over Britain after we leave the EU?

The right hon. Gentleman will know, because it was in our manifesto and it has been repeated since, that we have no plans to withdraw from the European convention on human rights or the Strasbourg Court.

Does the Minister agree that we had a very effective legal system before we joined the EU, and we will have a very effective one for many years after we leave?

My hon. Friend is right. Of course, I take very seriously the concerns of those who think we need to mitigate the risks, and that is what our negotiations and the EU (Withdrawal) Bill will do. We also have a huge opportunity to promote UK legal services on a global level through trade liberalisation and by promoting the UK as a hub for international dispute settlement. We should grasp the opportunities as well as managing the risks.

Last month—just two weeks ago—while the House debated the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, the Prime Minister’s spokesman told journalists that the Government expect the role of the European Court of Justice to remain unchanged during an implementation period of two years after the Brexit date in March 2019. Will the Minister confirm to the House that that means that it will not be possible to bring into force large parts of the EU (Withdrawal Bill), including the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, until the end of the implementation period?

The position is set out in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and the hon. and learned Lady will know from Committee debates that we have made it very clear that we are not going to pre-empt or prejudge the outcome of the negotiations on either the withdrawal agreement or the implementation period.

Last week “Sky News” reported that the Government wish to stay in the European Aviation Safety Agency after Brexit and accept that that will mean remaining under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, because it is the ultimate arbiter of EASA rulings. Will the Minister now confirm that this means the Prime Minister’s red line of no ECJ jurisdiction after Brexit has been shown to be utterly and completely untenable?

I am afraid that the hon. and learned Lady is relying yet again on second-hand reports via the media. We will not pre-empt or prejudice the outcome of negotiations on the partnership deal, and I hope that she will support us in getting the very best deal for that sector and for the UK as a whole.

Order. The hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) has an exactly similar question. I would have called him if he were standing, but he was not, so I did not, but if he does, I will. No? The hon. Gentleman does not wish to do so. So be it; it is his choice.

Can the Minister confirm that elements of our civil and criminal law go back to Magna Carta in 1215 and earlier, that our legal system is far more long established than any EU legal system, that we have one of the most respected legal systems in the world and that, as far as future laws in this country are concerned, Brexit holds no fears for us?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. We have a rather different legal system, through our common law, and we have variations across the UK, but I think that we should have the courage of our convictions and confidence in our democracy. When it comes to the judiciary, of course, we want the UK Supreme Court to have the last word on the laws of the land.