Criminal law practitioners today highlighted the challenge that leaving the EU will pose to international criminal justice cooperation – and suggested that justice is not currently high on the government’s Brexit agenda.
Giving evidence to the House of Commons justice select committee this morning, members of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association and Criminal Bar Association spoke at length about the importance of the European arrest warrant. However, both representative bodies told MPs that the government had not consulted them on the mechanisms for the EAW to continue post-Brexit.
CLSA member and solicitor Michael Gray, founding partner of Gray & Co Solicitors, told MPs it was disappointing that the justice debate had not happened sooner, ‘because it would have been useful for the public generally to see what an intricate, complicated web of cross-border cooperation we have in place, and that people have worked hard to put in place’.
Gray was responding to committee member Keith Vaz MP, who noted that the justice agenda had not been the centre stage. ‘Do you think there is a big, strong case to make sure that the justice portfolio is actually there and that the secretary of state should be at the forefront of discussions, rather than it just being about trade, immigration and the economy?’ Vaz asked.
Earlier in the session Gray told the committee that the European arrest warrant was a ‘very powerful tool’ being used on a daily basis, adding that it was not just an important tool in the fight against crime but in bringing justice for all those concerned.
However, he predicted ‘huge problems’ in future negotiations, noting Norway and Iceland’s lengthy efforts to establish their own bilateral extradition agreements that mirror the EAW.
Meanwhile CBA chair Francis FitzGibbon QC acknowledged there was no reason why access to the European Criminal Records Information System should not be negotiable. At present, no non-EU member states can access the system, which was set up in 2012.
However, FitzGibbon warned that to get access to that kind of information, the UK would have to be compliant with EU data protection standards.
He said: ‘We are at the moment just about compliant. The EU is willing to forgive any potential lapses in our data protection regime. But I think if we drift away from compliance when outside the EU they will not share data, and that would be a very serious blow to cooperation across the piece in law and order, and justice – not just criminal records but the whole picture would be radically altered.’
FitzGibbon predicted that the implications of the judgment on surveillance handed down in Secretary of State for the Home Department v Watson and Others in the Court of Justice of the European Union, and forthcoming data protection reforms, could potentially cause ‘significant’ problems post-Brexit.
He warned that EU agencies risk breaching EU law ‘if they disclose information to an institution that does not have the standards that apply to them’.