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Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (2005 Hague Convention and 2007 Hague Convention) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Volume 817: debated on Tuesday 14 December 2021

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (2005 Hague Convention and 2007 Hague Convention) (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

My Lords, I begin by saying how much of an honour it is to serve under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. This is my maiden outing in this Room; it is a melancholy reflection, given that I took up office more than a year ago, but here I am in the Moses Room for the first time.

I am obliged. This draft instrument is made under the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Act 2020, which I will refer to as the PIL Act. The Act currently gives force of law to these conventions and ensures that they are read together with any reservations and declarations made at the time of approval. It also sets out, in new schedules to the Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments Act 1982, the text of the conventions. To ensure that the information is complete and readily accessible, this instrument will insert the text of the reservations and declarations alongside the convention texts in new schedules to the 1982 Act.

This draft instrument is technical in nature and does not alter the UK’s status as a party to either the 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements or the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance. It also brings into domestic legislation the texts of the UK’s reservations and declarations to those conventions. The UK has participated in the 2005 and 2007 Hague conventions since 2015 and 2014 respectively. Previously, we were bound by the conventions by virtue of our membership of the European Union—a status that continued to apply throughout the transition period in accordance with the withdrawal agreement. In September 2020, the United Kingdom took the necessary steps to join the two conventions as an independent party, as part of preparation for leaving the EU. This included depositing the necessary instruments of accession and ratification.

To be able to make this instrument, the PIL Act requires the Secretary of State to consult with such persons as they think necessary. To meet this requirement, the Ministry of Justice, on behalf of the Secretary of State, consulted key stakeholders in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as legal practitioners, academics and judges specialising in private international law, with whom the Ministry of Justice engages regularly. No objections to this instrument were received. In addition, as this instrument will apply to all UK legal jurisdictions, the consent of Scottish Ministers and the department of the Northern Ireland Executive has been obtained.

When rejoining these conventions as an independent party, the declarations and reservations by which the UK had been bound as a member of the European Union were not amended. This instrument will not make any changes to those reservations and declarations. While the existing reservations and declarations have been retained, this will not prevent the United Kingdom from changing them to either or both these conventions in future or withdrawing reservations to the 2007 Hague Convention if at any time it should to Parliament seem appropriate so to do.

Overall, as I have noted, this instrument is technical in its nature and will not alter the application of the conventions, nor their respective declarations and reservations. None the less, it is important to have the text of these declarations and reservations readily available in domestic legislation and alongside the text of the conventions for ease of reference for practitioners. I hope that the Committee will join me in supporting these regulations.

My Lords, in his introduction, the Minister said that that was his maiden speech in the Moses Room. I remember having a discussion upstairs about a year ago on some similar legislation, also to do with reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders—the 2007 Hague Convention, to which I shall refer later in my contribution. As the Minister says, this instrument is technical in nature. We on our side support the Government on it.

The 2005 and 2007 conventions were transferred to domestic law as part of the package of the private international law Act last year; this instrument seems to transfer the definitions within the conventions over to UK law. I open with what may be a simplistic question to the Minister: will the definitions under the 1996 Hague Convention be transferred by secondary legislation in the new year? Is that an additional piece of process that we should expect?

The 2005 Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements ensures the effectiveness of exclusive choice of court agreements between parties to international commercial transactions. These clauses are common, particularly in high-value commercial contracts. The UK previously participated in the 2005 convention by virtue of EU membership, as we have heard; the EU ratified the 2005 convention, and it entered into force from 1 October 2015. On 28 September 2020, the UK deposited its instrument of accession to the 2005 convention to ensure that it continues its independent participation in the convention. The Minister set all that out in his introduction to today’s debate.

The 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance provides for rules for the international recovery of child support and spousal maintenance. Both the 2005 and 2007 conventions ensure legal co-operation across jurisdictions to provide certainty and fairness for those involved in cross-border litigation. The Labour Party supported the transfer to domestic law of both conventions during the PIL Act 2020, as referred to by the Minister.

Finally, I return to my personal issue—I remember that the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, was there last year when I raised it; I see her nodding her head—with my hat on as a family magistrate. One of the most excruciating things that I do in that role is try to enforce the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders. The Minister wrote me a letter, which I have in front of me, in which he fairly set out the legal processes whereby reciprocal enforcement should be done. I accept that my assertion—that there are insufficient powers to enforce maintenance orders reciprocally—was wrong.

The point I wanted to make to the noble and learned Lord is that, whether I was right or wrong, it is still an excruciating process. It is very difficult to do. Very often the reciprocal enforcement of maintenance orders fails. I accept the point that he makes in his letter that it is not because of a lack of powers; maybe it is a lack of administrative will. It is absolutely an excruciating process for me as a magistrate and with the administration process around it. The parties we see in court are often in despair about trying to resolve these issues.

Nevertheless, I understand that we are talking on a more general basis today. I welcome the instrument that the noble and learned Lord has put forward. I am also in direct contact with the relevant Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, on the family court, so he does not need to introduce me to him. I will fight my own battles on this front.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his contribution. I well remember the opening of my account in the Room upstairs. I also remember the noble Lord’s close questioning, informed, as today, by his valuable experience on the Bench of magistrates in the family area of law, if I might put it like that.

The noble Lord posed a question about the 1996 Hague convention. The United Kingdom joined that instrument in its own right rather than through the European Union, so as I understand it no further action on that convention will be necessary.

I note with concern the noble Lord’s observations concerning the excruciating nature of the treatment of these matters in his capacity as a magistrate. I will do what I can, along with my noble friend Lord Wolfson in the Ministry of Justice, in order to assist.

At this stage, I register my appreciation and that of the Government for the assistance we received from stakeholders who engaged in consultation with us in the preparation of these instruments, and for the co-operation of our colleagues in the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. With that, I commend the instrument to the Committee.

Motion agreed.