Brexit – the proliferation of Parliamentary Select Committee enquiries into the impact

The Institute for Government reports that Commons Select Committees have already launched over 18 separate inquiries into the effect of Brexit, alongside a further 13 underway in the House of Lords – and all of this before the new Exiting the European Union Select Committee (DExEU Committee) begins its work. Some of these inquiries are listed at the end of this blog but the body this piece looks at those launched by the Justice Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

In early October, the Prime Minister announced plans at the Conservative Party conference for a Grand Repeal Bill which would, unless otherwise provided, transpose all current EU law into UK law on the date that the UK leaves the EU. It is proposed that after this date the Government would tackle particular areas or individual instruments that may need to be revised or tempered to reflect the post-Brexit realities of the UK economy and of the deal negotiated with the other Member States.

On 12 October the Commons Justice Select Committee launched an inquiry into the implications of Brexit for the justice system and called for written submissions by 11 November 2016. The Committee then intends to hold oral evidence sessions before it presents recommendations to inform the Government’s Brexit negotiations. The Joint Committee on Human Rights launched its own inquiry and call for evidence in September. (‘Joint’ here meaning the Committee includes MPs and Peers).

The Justice Committee has called for written submissions on:

  1. The criminal justice system in England and Wales and future co-operation in policing and judicial matters with EU member states and agencies, including Europol and Eurojust;
  2. The civil justice system in England and Wales, including the Family Court and commercial courts;
  3. The legal services sector in England and Wales and the wider UK economy.

In respect of civil justice, there is a significant body of EU law dealing with the handling of cross-border legal disputes which involves critical issues such as jurisdiction, applicable law and enforcement of judgments. Some of the rules depend on reciprocity between Member States and with the UK outside the EU that may well no longer exist. Others – such the Rome II regulation on applicable law in tort – could be regarded as standalone and more likely readily to apply post-Brexit. The Committee says these matters create challenges, but also opportunities, particularly in commercial law dispute resolution.

On the criminal side, the UK participates in some, but not all, of the EU’s policing and criminal justice policies. The European Arrest Warrant facilitates for example, extraditing foreign nationals to face charges in other EU countries, and bringing back those suspected of crimes in the UK. Those convicted of crimes abroad may, in some cases, serve their sentences at home under the Prisoner Transfer Framework Decision. Future involvement with these schemes looks to be subject to negotiation.

Legal services in England and Wales contributed about £26 billion to the UK’s economy in 2015. Firms and practitioners value cross-border practising rights and mutual accreditation of qualifications. The Committee intends to identify threats and opportunities for the future of the legal sector in England and Wales arising from Brexit. One obvious area will be the financial services sector, given the very strong links which many firms and practitioners have to it.

Withdrawal from the EU would mean that the UK no longer has to comply with the human rights obligations contained in the EU Treaties and other sources of EU law, unless Parliament chooses to continue them in force. The Joint Committee on Human Rights identified three areas of particular interest:

  1. The potential impact of Article 8 of the European Convention (ECHR), which protects privacy and family life, on EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in other EU Member states in terms of their right to stay?
  2. The implications for the UK of trade deals negotiated by the EU, on behalf of Member States, which include human rights clauses. What are the implications, how important are these agreements and what human rights provisions should the UK include in its own trade deals?
  3. The potential impact of withdrawal on other human rights protected by EU law, for example: labour rights, disability rights and rights to freedom from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

There has been much talk about scrapping the Human Rights Act 1998 – which gives the rights in the Convention force in UK law – and replacing it with of a British Bill of Rights. Indeed, doing precisely that was a clear manifesto commitment in the Conservative’s manifesto for the 2015 General Election, as was holding a referendum on our membership of the EU.  Perhaps the recent announcement by the Government to protect Service personnel from spurious claims that would mean parts of the ECHR being suspended during future conflicts will pave the way for wider changes in what remains a controversial area.

Other current Commons Select Committee inquiries dealing with Brexit include:

 Treasury Committee

  • Inquiry into Solvency II, the harmonised EU-wide insurance regulatory scheme

 Culture Media and Sport

  • Impact of Brexit on the creative industries, tourism and the digital single market

Health Committee

  • Brexit and health and social care

Women and Equalities Committee

  • Ensuring strong equalities legislation after EU exit

Education Committee

  • The impact of exiting the European Union on higher education

Justice Committee

  • Implications of Brexit for the justice system
  • Implications of Brexit for the Crown Dependencies

Science and Technology Committee

  • Implications and opportunities for science and research of leaving the EU

Welsh Affairs Committee

  • Implications for Wales of the EU referendum result

Foreign Affairs Committee

  • Implications of leaving the EU for the UK’s role in the world

Written by Jef Mitchell, consultant

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