Lords warn leaving EU legal framework poses risks for cross-border cases
Enforcing the return of children abducted during family breakdowns and resolving international business disputes within Europe are among the legal cases likely to become more difficult after Brexit, a parliamentary committee has warned.
Unless mutual recognition of judgments is renegotiated, the Lords EU justice sub-committee maintains, “there will be real hardship” for families and firms who could be subject to 27 separate, national sets of regulations across EU states.
The regime of reciprocal legal rules that operates within the EU cannot simply be reproduced through UK legislation such as the government’s “great repeal bill”, according to the committee’s report, “Brexit: justice for families, individuals and businesses?”. A new agreement with the EU or transitional arrangements will be required.
“It is clear that significant problems will arise for UK citizens and businesses,” the report says, “if the UK leaves the EU without agreement on the post-Brexit application of the [Brussels regulations, which support judicial reciprocity across].”
There will be an “inevitable increase” in cross-border litigation and a “loss of certainty and predictability” once the UK has left the Brussels regulations system, the committee fears. “To walk away from these regulations without putting alternatives in place would seriously undermine the family law rights of UK citizens and would, ultimately, be an act of self-harm.”
Evidence provided by the Law Society of England and Wales to the inquiry suggested that uncertainty over Brexit was already having an impact on the UK’s booming market for legal services and commercial litigation.
Examples of the type of difficulties that may emerge, given by the report, include the situation where a mother in a failed relationship with a British father flees to her native Poland with the child.
“Having failed to persuade the child’s mother to return the child, the father knows that he needs to go to court to get his daughter back,” but post-Brexit he may be confronted by a dilemma over which court to use, the report says.
In another future case, the committee suggests, a clothes manufacturer in Manchester who finds cotton ordered from a Greek firm to be sub-standard will have problems over where a claim over liability should be heard.
The government’s determination to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the European court of justice in Luxembourg, the EU’s highest court, will make the process of developing new cross-border agreements even harder, the committee warns.
Labour peer Lady Kennedy of the Shaws, who is chair of the Lords EU justice sub-committee, said: “Unless the government can agree a replacement of the existing rules on mutual recognition of judgments, there will be great uncertainty over access to justice for families, businesses and individuals.
“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 Guardian
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