‘Europeanisation’ of the justice system will damage the UK’s ‘unique selling point’, the lord chancellor said today, defending the government’s intention to opt out of EU law and order measures.
Chris Grayling (pictured) told the House of Commons Justice committee that the measures are the ‘thin end of the wedge’ towards the creation of a ‘europeanised’ justice system.
Grayling said: ‘There is a very clear objective in the European Commission to take more and more steps to create a single European justice area.’ He said he did not want to ‘hand over in perpetuity’ control of justice issues to the European Court of Justice, but wanted sovereignty to remain with parliament.
Highlighting the international reputation of the UK’s justice system, he warned: ‘If we accept that our legal system will become more Europeanised, then by definition our USP in the world will become less and less visible.’
In July the home secretary Theresa May confirmed that the UK will opt out of 130 EU policing and criminal measures and seek to rejoin 35 measures, identified as being in the national interest to fight serious and organised cross border crime.
Among the measures that the UK is considering opting back in to are the European arrest warrant, Europol and Eurojust.
Grayling said some measures, including the prisoner transfer agreement, are ‘obviously advantageous’ for the country to be part of.
Of the 4,058 foreign prisoners in UK jails, Grayling said around 1,400 have over six months left to serve and are therefore eligible for prisoner transfer arrangements, which would lessen the burden on the prison system.
Grayling said measures to allow data sharing and to enable to British citizens facing trial overseas to spend their bail period in this country, are also among those that the government may rejoin.
He did not rule out a future government being part of a European probation measure, but said the measures currently drafted are ‘vague’ and lack evidence showing they work properly and ensure appropriate levels of supervision.
But he emphatically rejected measures, such as common sentencing, that he said are more about the ‘Europeanisation of justice’ – a road that he said the government does not want to go down.
‘I don’t think there is any will in this country to Europeanise justice,’ he said. ‘I don’t believe that’s right for this country; I don’t believe that’s what this country wants, I don’t believe that’s what the people of this country want. It’s certainly not what the last government wanted and it’s not what this government wants.’
Grayling rejected the notion of a European public prosecutor, saying it would be a ‘real watershed step’ for this country. ‘It is not a route we’re going to go down,’ he said, adding that other member states shared the UK’s ‘misgivings’.
Other measures, said Grayling, such as those on conflict of jurisdiction, are ‘redundant or have little impact’ and so there is ‘no need’ for the UK to hand over jurisdiction.
Grayling rejected the suggestion that the UK’s reputation would be damaged internationally by opting out of the measures or that the UK should take be part of the measures to ensure other country’s standards remain high.
He told the committee: ‘I’m not willing to see us compromise our own sovereignty and the integrity of our own justice system in the name of getting other people to improve theirs.’