Co-operation on justice 'too precious for bargaining' in Brexit talks, MPs warn
Criminal justice co-operation is a critical part of the Brexit negotiations and should be dealt with separately from other matters, MPs in the UK say.
They warned the issue of Britain's links with the European Union on tackling cross-border crime is "too precious to be left vulnerable to tactical bargaining".
In raising the issue, the MPs were echoing concerns already expressed here in Gibraltar about the impact of Brexit on cross-border cooperation frameworks.
The Commons Justice Committee highlighted a number of mechanisms currently in place on extradition, investigative resources and information sharing.
- The European Arrest Warrant, which was established to allow rapid transfer of crime suspects and convicts from one member state to another.
- Europol, the EU's law enforcement agency, which provides analytical and operational support to national authorities.
- Eurojust, the EU's judicial co-operation unit, which supports the investigation and prosecution of serious cross-border cases.
- Arrangements for sharing data such as criminal records, biometric information and real-time alerts.
Senior figures in policing and counter-terrorism, both in the UK and in Gibraltar, have stressed the importance of maintaining channels with EU partners and access to shared data in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Justice issues were among the key post-Brexit concerns flagged by Attorney General Michael Llamas, QC, in the wake of the June 23 referendum.
“We are very worried about losing a lot of the gateways and a lot of the measures and the instruments which the EU have adopted in the area of justice and home affairs which are extremely effective and help to combat crime on a trans-national basis,” Mr Llamas told GBC in a interview earlier this year.
The Attorney General pointed to mutual legal assistance, the European arrest warrant, Europol and the intelligence aspect of the Schengen system as examples and said these things were “extremely important” for the Royal Gibraltar Police and must be taken into account.
Cross-border cooperation is of particular importance to Gibraltar, which after Brexit will have the UK’s only land border with the EU on the European mainland.
In an interview with the Chronicle earlier this, Eddie Yome, the Commissioner of the Royal Gibraltar Police, said international cooperation played a critical role in protecting Gibraltar from the threat of terrorism.
Not only that, cooperation mechanisms such as the European Arrest Warrant ensured Gibraltar could not be seen as a safe haven by criminals fleeing justice in the EU.
Without that fast-track extradition mechanism, criminals arrested in Gibraltar on international warrants would face a slower, more cumbersome process.
Given Gibraltar’s land border with Spain, that could pose particular problems for authorities here, for example with a criminal fleeing arrest on the Costa del Sol.
“OK, we arrest him and what do we do with him?” Mr Yome said. “What do we do with that person?”
“I think [this issue] been recognised [locally] and it has been recognised by the UK.”
The Commissioner was confident that given the serious nature of the challenge, practical solutions would be identified to deal with potential pitfalls.
“I think that liaison and cooperation will always exist,” Mr Yome said.
The Commons Justice Committee report said continued criminal justice co-operation is a "critical justice priority for Brexit negotiations", saying it "impacts upon the safety of citizens, of both the UK and the rest of the EU".
Conservative MP Bob Neill, chairman of the committee and a politician with close links to Gibraltar, said: “We welcome the [UK] Government's signals that it intends to continue to co-operate with the EU on criminal justice.”
“The seriousness of the matter and the degree of mutual interest give weight to the suggestion that this aspect of negotiations be separated firmly from others, it is too precious to be left vulnerable to tactical bargaining.”
Continuing co-operation on criminal justice as closely as possible is one of four priorities the Government must address in negotiating the UK's new relationship with the EU, the committee said.
The others identified by the MPs are: maintaining access to the EU's regulations on commercial law; enabling cross-border legal practice rights and opportunities; and retaining effective mechanisms to resolve family law cases.
The report also considered the role of the Court of Justice of the European Union in relation to civil law mechanisms.
Ministers have pledged to bring an end to the jurisdiction of the court in Britain as part of the Brexit settlement.
However, the committee's paper concludes it remains unclear how civil justice co-operation will work without the CJEU or another court playing a limited "arbitral" role.
Mr Neill, who is also the secretary of the Commons all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar, said: "Protecting the UK as a top-class commercial law centre should be a major priority given the clear impacts on the economy of failure to do so: the Government should look to replicate existing provisions as closely as possible.”
“Similar provisions in family law provide greater speed in child abduction cases, for example, and represent improvements over their default alternatives.”
“We believe that a role for the Court of Justice of the European Union in respect of these essentially procedural regulations is a price worth paying to maintain effective cross-border tools of justice.”