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Leaving the EU: Legal Systems

Volume 635: debated on Tuesday 23 January 2018

1. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the operation of the legal system in each legal jurisdiction in the UK. (903483)

4. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the operation of the legal system in each legal jurisdiction in the UK. (903486)

13. What plans the Government have to ensure that the UK legal system continues to operate effectively after the UK leaves the EU. (903496)

The Government have made it a priority to ensure that there is a smooth legal transition both in our negotiations with the EU and in our domestic implementing legislation. I fully appreciate that Scotland and Northern Ireland have distinct legal systems, and that is why my Department has been working closely with the devolved Administrations, looking at how our legal and justice systems are affected by EU exit. The Government are clear that a good deal with the EU will be one that works for all parts of the United Kingdom.

I welcome the new Secretary of State to his position, having shadowed him for a few months when he was Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

The UK Government’s position papers on judicial co-operation in civil matters, data protection and judicial oversight have been dismissed by EU interlocutors as unsatisfactory, due to their lack of realism and detail. Does the Secretary of State intend to respond to that by producing more realistic and detailed proposals?

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words. It is pleasing to know that, wherever I go, he follows.

Regarding the hon. Gentleman’s question, we are ambitious—we want to get the best deal. I appreciate that, in the course of negotiations, it is possible that our interlocutors will express an adverse opinion, but we will continue to engage and to be ambitious.

The Secretary of State has acknowledged Scotland’s distinct legal and judicial system. The role of Lord Advocate in overseeing the investigation and prosecution of crime means that, in Scotland, there is direct co-operation between Scottish law enforcement agencies and their European counterparts. Will the Minister give details of the consultations between his Department, and the Scottish Government and Scottish Law Officers in that regard?

We continue to engage with the Scottish Government across the board, including on that implementation matter.

Will the Minister update the House on plans in relation to foreign criminals in UK prisons and on whether, after we leave the EU, we might be able to return those who break our laws to their country of origin, rather the UK taxpayer footing the bill for their stay at Her Majesty’s pleasure?

Since 2010, we have removed more than 40,000 foreign national offenders from our prisons, immigration removal centres and indeed the community. There is a range of removal mechanisms that enable the return of foreign offenders to their home countries. The Government are now considering future criminal justice arrangements with the EU with the aim of continuing our close working relationship.

The Secretary of State will be aware that in family law there are mutual and reciprocal arrangements between EU countries to ensure that judgments are recognised and enforced. How does he envisage the interests of children being protected after we exit the EU and are no longer able to rely on those mutual arrangements?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. Having satisfactory arrangements with the European Union in that and other matters is important. It is right that we are ambitious so that the interests of children are put at the heart of what we do.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post—it is nice to see a lawyer there. I hope that he has a lengthy tenure, if not quite as long as that of the last lawyer from Ipswich who was Lord Chancellor, and with a better ending.

Much of the debate has been concentrated on criminal justice co-operation. In his speech on being sworn in, my right hon. Friend rightly referred to the importance of the UK as a jurisdiction of choice in civil and commercial litigation. Will he make sure that that aspect is not lost in our negotiations, in particular the importance to London and the UK’s financial services sector of having contractual certainty?

I thank my hon. Friend. Given that the last Lord Chancellor from Ipswich was Cardinal Wolsey, who ran into some difficulties in negotiations with a powerful European supranational body, I should tread carefully. It is important that in our negotiations we try as best we can to provide the certainty my hon. Friend seeks.

I welcome the new Secretary of State for Justice to his place. Sir David Edward, a distinguished former judge in Scotland and at the European Court of Justice, has said that so far

“the UK Government has overlooked the significance of the separate Scottish legal system, the Scottish judicial system and the Scottish prosecution system in relation to justice and home affairs issues”

in their negotiations with the EU. Will the new Secretary of State undertake to meet me to discuss how those oversights might be rectified?

I am not sure that I would accept the hon. and learned Lady’s characterisation of the position as one of oversight. I made it clear in the very first answer I gave in this role that I fully appreciate that Scotland had a distinct legal system. However, I would certainly be delighted to discuss the matter with her further.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for agreeing to meet me, but that was not my characterisation; it was the characterisation of a senior judge in the Scottish courts and in the Court of Justice. The judge went on to describe the UK Government’s paper on enforcement and dispute resolution as

“an undergraduate essay which would have failed”.

He says that those who are writing the papers are not aware of the problems posed by the separate Scottish legal system and that they do not want to hear from the experts who have offered to help. This is a serious problem. Will the Secretary of State, in his new role, undertake to listen to those who know about the Scottish legal system and to take on board their concerns in his negotiations on these matters?

I want to ensure that we end up in a position that is good for the legal system and legal services in every part of the United Kingdom. That certainly includes Scotland, and of course I will want to engage with representations and representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom to ensure that we get the best possible deal.

After Brexit, can we do something that we cannot do now? In other words, if an EU national is found guilty of an imprisonable offence, will we be able to deport them to serve their sentence in prison in their own country and ban them from ever returning?

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley), we are considering future criminal justice arrangements with the European Union. We want close working relationships, but we also need to work together to ensure that foreign national offenders can be removed when possible.