Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:57 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General 6:57 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, the White Paper on Brexit of 2 February stated that,

“the UK will continue to participate fully in EU security and criminal justice measures while we remain a member of the EU”, and continued:

“As we exit, we will therefore look to negotiate the best deal we can with the EU to cooperate in the fight against crime and terrorism”.

That was the promise.

The House of Commons Justice Committee published an important report on 22 March, Implications of Brexit for the Justice System. Written evidence was received from the Ministry of Justice which highlighted the significance of our membership of Europol, the European arrest warrant, Eurojust, which maintains joint investigative teams on individual cases, the European Criminal Records Information System, which gives access to EU data-sharing platforms and agreements, and the EU prisoner transfer agreement. The Ministry of Justice further stated in its evidence:

“We are exploring options for cooperation arrangements once the UK has left the EU … it would be wrong to set out unilateral positions on specific measures in advance of negotiations”.

We have 19 months to go before we fall off the cliff.

In a written memorandum of 6 March, Professor Tim Wilson, an expert in this field, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association and the chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association jointly set out their concerns. They stated that,

“nowhere is there such a comprehensive, integrated and efficient multinational system for co-operation as within the EU”.

After Brexit, there will have to be in place UK law sufficiently well-grounded to work in a manner that is not damaging to the UK legal system.

Take the European arrest warrant, available only to members of the EU. Norway and Iceland have spent 15 years trying to join. Theresa May herself, when Home Secretary, pointed out that without the EAW we fall back on the Council of Europe convention of 1957. She said that the length of time that extradition procedures would take could undermine public safety. Further, she said that 22 member states of the EU, including France, Germany and Spain could refuse to extradite their own nationals to the UK.

The National Crime Agency, in evidence to the Justice Committee also said that the EAW system is,

“quick, effective, and an excellent example of co-operation and mutual recognition in criminal matters”.

This is what we are about to throw away, along with a long and valuable history of co-operation in combating terrorism and crime.

For example, the EU Council framework decision of 2009, on the exchange of information from criminal records, resulted in the UK adding 478 individuals convicted of sex offences overseas to our own violent and sexual offenders database, adding their fingerprints and DNA profiles. The UK, as a financial centre, must always be on its guard against money laundering, tax evasion, bribery and similar white collar crime in cross-border financial activities. We will lose the existing data sharing and co-operation.

Ironically, we have just signed up to the new Europol regime, starting last month. During this Parliament, we will leave that organisation and there is nothing envisaged to replace it. We have also been heavily involved in creating the new Prüm system for the exchange of fingerprints, DNA and vehicle data. It is currently at a pilot stage, but will by 2020 introduce a fully automated and quick system for the exchange in Europe of fingerprint, DNA and vehicle records. We, of course, will be outside it. All these tools depend on our membership of the EU, and the data protection regime developed under European directives. The chairman of the Criminal Bar Association put it this way:

“I understand that at the moment we are just about compliant, and the European Union is willing to forgive any potential lapses in our data protection regime; but if we drift away from compliance when outside the European Union, it will not share data”.

The gracious Speech, which sets out the Government’s programme for two years—beyond the point where, under Article 50, we will leave the EU—says nothing about the complex legislation that will be required in all these fields. Without robust legal arrangements for extradition, we in this country are in danger of being a safe haven for criminals. Without the close co-operation we have developed with our European partners, the Government will fail in their primary duty: to keep this country safe and secure.

“Negotiating the best deal we can”,

the White Paper says. Where do the Government start, and where will they finish?