Families & Businesses Could Lose Access to Justice Across the EU


The House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee recently published its report Brexit: justice for families, individuals and businesses?

This House of Lords report finds that:

  • The current system for civil justice cooperation across the EU member states – in the development of which UK expertise has been prominent – works well.
  • Disputes that cross borders, whether family or commercial, are currently settled by judgments that are enforceable across the EU.
  • This gives families, businesses (particularly SMEs) and individuals the legal consistency and predictability on which they depend.

However, the Committee found that as Brexit takes effect:

  • Unless the current system of ‘mutual recognition’ of judgments across the EU is duplicated, not only will the advantages be lost, but there will be real hardship for families and businesses, who could be left subject to national rules across 27 other member states.
  • The Government has emphasised the importance of separating the UK from the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the EU. But the key finding of this report is that alternatives to the existing framework of civil justice cooperation must be in place before the UK’s withdrawal is completed.
  • The Committee concluded that falling back on common law and earlier international agreements that are less clear, simple or effective, would leave UK citizens with uncertainty and diminished access to justice.

Chairman of the Committee, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws 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.”

Within the report the Committee consider examples of how EU regulations work in everyday situations:

Case Study 1: An unmarried couple are living in Wales with their four-year old daughter. The father has parental responsibility. The relationship breaks down and the couple split up, One day, the mother fails to return the child to the father when expected. It is discovered that the mother has fled with the child to Poland with her new partner. 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 to Wales—but which court to go to and what is the most effective route to use?

Case Study: A clothes manufacturer in Manchester orders and pays for cotton from a supplier in Greece. When the order arrives, the manufacturer discovers that the quality of the cotton is not of the standard agreed in the contract. The supplier refuses to accept any liability and the manufacturer decides to seek redress through the courts. Where should the case be heard?

It is expected the Committees will complete this work in early 2017, ahead of the Government’s potential triggering of Article 50 of the EU Treaty, which would signal the start of the formal negotiations on UK withdrawal from the EU.

(Source: House of Lords)

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