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“Vulnerable children will be victims” of Government's failure to provide clarity - Lords warn Government over family justice system after Brexit

A “worrying level of complacency”, lack of clarity, and inadequate advice will have a devastating knock-on effect on the UK family law courts, and ultimately children – warns the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee.

Today the Committee has written to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke MP, warning the Government again that without alternatives in place for civil justice by the time the UK leaves the EU, there would be “great uncertainty for UK businesses and citizens”. 

With just months to go before the deadline for a Brexit deal, and with the increasing likeliness of no-deal, the Committee is concerned  by the Government's lack of clarity. The advice provided so far, including the recent Government technical note “Handling civil legal cases that involve EU countries if there's no Brexit deal”, amounts to little more than a repeated suggestion that they seek legal advice.

The Committee has asked the Government to respond regarding four main points:

  • The Committee recommends that the Withdrawal Agreement should make explicitly clear that it will encompass the rules that apply in international child abduction cases, and not be subject to the jurisdiction of individual countries.
  • The Committee states that the current plan for EU cooperation after Brexit is far too vague and  much more detail is needed, particularly regarding family law, and that simply advising people to seek legal advice is inadequate.
  • The Committee was troubled by Lucy Frazer QC MP's lack of clarity regarding the UK's post-Brexit membership of the Lugano Convention. The session with the Minister undermined their confidence in the Ministry of Justice's preparation for this issue. The Committee is asking what steps the Government has taken to secure the UK's participation in the Lugano Convention, and what the contingency plans are.
  • The Committee asks the Government to explain in the event of a no-deal what will be done to address the considerable individual expense and inconvenience for litigants, and the resource implications for a family law system already under considerable pressure.

Chairman of the Committee Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws said: “The government needs to wake up to the reality of what having no answers on family justice will mean after Brexit. The uncertainty ultimately leaves vulnerable children as the victims.

“Our evidence sessions, and the Government's responses to our report have done nothing but make the Committee more concerned. With the deadline for a Brexit deal looming, the need for clarity is getting more and more urgent.”

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