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Leaving the EU: Justice System

Volume 649: debated on Tuesday 13 November 2018

18. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on the justice system of the UK leaving the EU. (907519)

We laid out our ambition in the policy paper that we produced in August 2017 and again in the most recent White Paper, setting out that we want the closest possible co-operation in civil and family justice matters. We continue to negotiate with the EU on these matters; in the meantime, as a responsible Government, we continue to prepare for no deal.

The UK currently extradites more than 1,000 people a year to the rest of the European Union using the European arrest warrant. Does the Minister accept that withdrawing from the European arrest warrant would make extraditing dangerous criminals from the UK slower and much more bureaucratic?

We are very keen to ensure that we have a good relationship with the EU in relation to security matters going forward. I recently spoke to my Home Office counterpart, who is leading the negotiations on the European arrest warrant. I was pleased to see in the European Council’s negotiating guidelines that:

“The EU stands ready to establish partnerships in areas unrelated to trade, in particular the fight against terrorism and international crime, as well as security, defence and foreign policy.”

Since 2011, more than 760 people have been subject to court proceedings at a Scottish court after being arrested under the European arrest warrant. Will the Minister set out what will happen to schemes such as the European arrest warrant in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

It is both in our interests and the EU’s to ensure that we have a mutual arrangement on these matters that is as good as possible. I look forward to ensuring that we negotiate the best possible deal on this matter going forward.

The recent Scottish Government publication on security and judicial co-operation emphasises the need for Scotland’s separate legal and judicial system to be taken into account during the Brexit negotiation process. Can the Minister give a cast-iron guarantee that any new arrangements between the UK and the EU will respect Scotland’s separate and independent judicial system?

The hon. Lady is right to identify the separate and distinct legal arrangements that we have in Scotland. We negotiate and work very closely with Scotland and the Scottish Government on all these matters. In relation to no deal planning, there is almost weekly contact between my officials and those in the Scottish Government.

Our legal system is respected throughout the world. What steps are being taken to ensure that that continues through Brexit and beyond?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Although Europe is a key partner for us throughout our services and legal services industries, there is a world beyond Europe. We in the Ministry of Justice are supporting, through our Legal Services are GREAT campaign, the continued work and co-operation of legal services abroad. We have been to Kazakhstan and to Nigeria.

The effect of a no-deal Brexit will obviously range widely, but how it will affect our justice system has not been much reported. Will the Minister assure the House that we are putting in place all the necessary planning for a no-deal Brexit even though we hope that it will not arise?

My hon. Friend is right. As a responsible Government, we are ensuring that we have our preparations in place. We have published two technical notices, one on civil judicial co-operation and one on legal services. We are putting together our statutory instruments to pass to ensure that our legal system continues to work, and we have £17.3 million from the Treasury for no deal preparations.

I can hardly overstate the importance of persistence in bobbing. I say to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) that to bob once is inadequate. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to participate, he should now bob again.

20. I appreciate your advice, Mr Speaker.Despite the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows), the Institute for Government states that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, extradition arrangements will revert back to the European convention on extradition. That process takes, on average, a year, while the current arrangements under the European arrest warrant take 48 days. Does the Minister not accept that a no-deal Brexit would cause significant challenges in tackling cross-border crime? (907522)

There are many areas of security and justice where it is important and beneficial to get the best possible arrangement. The European arrest warrant is an important one, and we are negotiating hard to ensure that we get the best possible arrangement going forward.

The former director of Europol, a Brit, has warned that deal or no deal, leaving the EU means that the UK will lose our leadership role in Europol and Eurojust, often both critical for fighting the most serious criminals. How does the Minister believe that leaving the EU will help Britain to bring serious organised criminal gangs to justice?

As I have mentioned, Europol and the European arrest warrant—all these areas where we share data—are incredibly important to us, as they are to the EU. We are one of the largest contributors to security information within the EU. The Home Office leads on these matters, and it is trying to ensure that we get the best possible co-operation going forward.

Contrary to the assurances that the Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell), the process of leaving the European Union has been marred by the UK Government’s consistent failure to consult the Scottish Government or Scotland’s Law Officers about the impact on Scotland’s separate and independent legal system. Can she now give me an assurance that this is not indicative of a plan to use Brexit to undermine Scotland’s independent legal system, which is of course protected by the Act of Union?

We have a devolution Act that sets out very clearly the separate and distinct nature of Scotland. We have almost weekly contact with officials on no deal planning. Paul Candler, who is a director in the MOJ, had a director-level meeting with his colleagues from Scotland and Northern Ireland on 9 November. We are legislating on behalf of Scotland at the Scottish Government’s request and with their permission. We are working very closely with Scotland on a number of SIs. I met the Scottish Law Society chair, Michael Clancy, earlier this year.

It is Government contact I am talking about, not contact with the Law Society, important as that is. The Minister should realise that Scotland’s independent legal system is protected not by devolution, but by the 1707 Act of Union. Scotland’s highest court has made a reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union on the question of whether article 50 is unilaterally revocable, not by the Government, but by this Parliament. The case will be heard on 27 November, but the UK Government are fighting it tooth and nail, even to the extent of attempting an appeal to the Supreme Court, despite the fact that an appeal to the Supreme Court is expressly prohibited in Scots law where there has been a unanimous interlocutory decision of Scotland’s highest court. Can the Minister tell me whether that is part of the plan to undermine Scotland’s separate legal system? How much money are the Government prepared to spend on keeping MPs in the dark about the revocability of article 50?

This Government are committed to the Union and to respecting the distinct Scottish legal system. I am fully aware of the matter before the Supreme Court, and we look forward to its judgment.