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Lords warn of Brexit risk to access to justice

20 March 2017

New arrangements must be in place ahead of Brexit to protect access to justice for UK citizens, the House of Lords EU Justice Subcommittee warned today.

In a report, Brexit: justice for families, individuals and businesses?, the peers find that the current system for civil justice cooperation across the EU member states – in the development of which UK expertise has been prominent – works well, resulting in judgments that are enforceable across the EU when disputes, whether family or commercial, cross borders. This gives families, businesses (particularly SMEs) and individuals the legal consistency and predictability on which they depend.

However, unless the current system of mutual recognition of judgments across the EU is duplicated post-Brexit, not only will the advantages be lost, but there will be real hardship for families and businesses if left subject to national rules across 27 other member states.

While the UK Government has emphasised the importance of separating the UK from the jurisdiction of the EU Court of Justice, the key finding of this report is that alternatives to the existing framework of civil justice cooperation must be in place before the UK’s withdrawal is completed.

The committee concludes that falling back on common law and earlier international agreements that are less clear, simple or effective, would leave UK citizens with uncertainty and diminished access to justice.

Chairman Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws commented: "The committee heard clear and conclusive evidence that there is no means by which the reciprocal rules currently in place can be replicated in the Great Repeal Bill. Domestic legislation can’t bind the other 27 member states.

“We therefore call on the Government to secure adequate alternative arrangements, whether as part of a withdrawal agreement or a transitional deal."

The report is part of a coordinated series of short inquiries by the  House of Lords EU Committee and its six subcommittees, looking at the key issues that will arise in the forthcoming negotiations on Brexit. The committees are aiming to complete this work ahead of the Government’s triggering of article 50 of the EU Treaty and the start of the formal negotiations for the UK's withdrawal.

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