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Leaving the EU: UK Legal System

Volume 639: debated on Tuesday 24 April 2018

7. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that the UK legal system continues to operate effectively after the UK leaves the EU. (904900)

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his impressive marathon run at the weekend.

We have agreed an implementation period that will give businesses and individuals legal certainty. We are now concentrating on ensuring that we negotiate the right future for our country, including a deal to ensure that there is mutual enforcement of recognition of judgments in the justice sector.

I thank the Minister for her response. I am very pleased not to have to bob this week, I can tell you, Mr Speaker.

Scotland is proud to have its own ancient and distinct legal system. Brexit will present the most significant challenge to that since the creation of the Scottish Parliament. It is therefore vital that we get it right. Will the Minister reassure me that, at her Department’s heart, it will ensure that Scots law continues to flourish post Brexit, respecting the distinct nature of Scots law and preventing legal confusion and chaos?

My hon. Friend is right to identify that Scotland has a distinct legal system that should be respected. It is important that we engage fully with the devolved Administrations to ensure that we get the best and the right deal throughout the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State will be speaking this afternoon to the Scottish Justice Minister and my officials speak regularly with their counterparts in Scotland to ensure that we will get the best deal for the UK.

Given the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, it is important that the Government do not add to the worries of businesses, especially those that would otherwise be in a position to invest and grow. Will the Secretary of State end the uncertainty in the credit market and release the response to part 2 of the soft tissue injury claims process consultation immediately?

The hon. Lady raises an interesting issue that I am happy to look into. More generally, legal certainty is incredibly important, which is why it is so good that we have agreed the implementation period, which gives us a period of certainty.

Has the Minister made any assessment in the Department of the beneficial changes that can follow from our legislative framework here in the UK, once we are finally unencumbered by the EU?

The hon. Gentleman is right that, after we have left the EU, we will be able to determine our laws, which will benefit our country in the way that we decide.

At the moment, there are two British judges on the European Court of Justice: one from the English legal tradition and one from the Scottish legal tradition. During the transition period, the domestic legal systems of the United Kingdom will continue to be subject to the full force of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, whether in relation to litigation between private individuals or enforcement against the United Kingdom. Why, then, have the UK Government agreed to article 6 of the draft withdrawal agreement?

The judges at the ECJ make a very valuable contribution to our jurisprudence and to the rights of individual citizens. It is worth pointing out that once someone is appointed as a judge of the ECJ, they are not a representative of their country; they are an individual determining cases that come before them, without any partisanship towards their country. Indeed, if we had a British case before the Court, there would be no saying whether it would come before an English judge or any other judge.

One of the things that means the European Court of Justice is not a foreign court is the presence of British judges on it, but article 6 of the draft withdrawal agreement, which appears to have been agreed, provides that there will be no British judges on the Court of Justice during the transition period. Effectively, they are getting the sack at the end of next March, despite the Court’s continued jurisdiction over the United Kingdom. Does the Minister accept that, as a rule of law issue, it is concerning that there will be no Scottish judge and no English judge on the Court of Justice during the transition period, despite the fact that these countries will continue to be subject to the Court of Justice? Will she persuade the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to revisit this issue in the negotiations to come, so that there will be British judges on the Court of Justice during the transition period?

As I mentioned, once the judges are appointed, they act independently of their country, so if we respect the judgments and the integrity of the other judges who are there already, we should be satisfied that we will get justice.