The Government has struck a reasonable balance in the way it is planning to exercise its right to opt-out of pre-Lisbon Treaty EU policing and criminal justice measures, but the way it has engaged Parliament in the decision-making process has been badly handled and "cavalier", according to a new report by the Justice Committee.
The Chairman of the Committee, Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP, said:
"The Government left the Commons select committees far too little time to assess the reasons for their decisions on EU justice opt-ins, and did not provide the full impact assessment which was needed. Our broad conclusions, however, support the Government’s assessment of justice measures we should opt into in the national interest, and we suggest that further consideration needs to be given to two measures which are not on the opt-in list, one on probation decisions and one on cases where someone could be tried in more than one member state".
In a unanimous report dealing with the measures in the so-called JHA block opt-out which fall within the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, the Justice Committee broadly supports the Government’s approach to them. The Committee agrees with the Government’s plans to seek to opt back into seven of the sixteen measures, and not to opt into a number of others. The Committee also raises questions about the Government’s intention not to opt back into two specific instruments, the Probation Measures Framework Decision and the Framework Decision on the settlement of conflicts of jurisdiction. The Committee also calls on the Government to provide an assessment of the effect of the extension of the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union over the measures covered by the opt-out.
The Government proposes to rejoin 5 of the 6 mutual recognition measures, including those on prisoner transfers and the European Supervision Order. The Committee’s report says that, subject to the fact that the Government has not provided a full impact assessment on the measures and there has been limited time to undertake the scrutiny exercise, the Committee broadly considers that on balance it is right to seek to rejoin the 5 measures.
The Government does not propose to rejoin measures establishing minimum standards for a number of criminal offences and sanctions. In its report the Committee says that the arguments for opting into these measures are primarily symbolic, and those arguments “do not outweigh the disadvantages of bringing wide areas of criminal justice in the UK unnecessarily into the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union”.
The Committee also agrees with the Government’s proposal to seek to rejoin decisions on data protection in policing and criminal justice, and on a data protection secretariat, but says that the arguments are more finely balanced in relation to the Framework Decision on settlement of conflicts of jurisdiction.
This report is the Justice Committee’s response to the House’s invitation of 15 July 2013 to it, together with the Home Affairs and European Scrutiny Committees, to submit a report relevant to the exercise of the JHA block opt-out by the end of October 2013, before the start of negotiations between the Government and the European Commission, Council and other EU member states on measures which the UK wishes to rejoin following exercise of the block opt-out.
The Government has given notification of its intention to exercise the block opt-out; its right to do so, and the conditions attached to the exercise of that right, are contained in Article 10 of Protocol 36 annexed to the EU Treaties. The block opt-out covers 130 or so EU police and criminal justice measures which had been adopted prior to 1 December 2009, the date of the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon. The Government has declared its intention to seek to rejoin 35 of these measures.
Most of the measures in the block opt-out, including the European Arrest Warrant, fall within the Home Office's responsibility. The sixteen Ministry of Justice measures include six mutual recognition measures, on financial penalties, previous convictions, prisoner transfer, probation measures, judgments in absentia, and the European Supervision Order. Some of these measures are related to the European Arrest Warrant, which the Government is seeking to rejoin with some modifications to its operation to make it more workable. The Government proposes to rejoin them all except for the Probation Measures Framework Decision.
There are also six "minimum standards" measures setting out EU-wide minimum penalties and sanctions for offences, such as counterfeiting of the euro or corruption of officials, which the Government does not propose to rejoin. The remaining measures comprise one on data protection in police and judicial co-operation, one on a data protection secretariat, a Schengen agreement on road traffic offences, and a measure on settlement of conflicts of jurisdiction. The Government proposes to rejoin the first two of these, but not the last two.