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Brexit: Criminal justice cooperation ‘vital’ to combat terrorism

EU arrangements should not be used as ‘bargaining chips’ in negotiations

27 March 2017

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The chair of the justice select committee has reiterated the importance of international cooperation on criminal justice following last week’s terror attack in Westminster, which left five people dead and at least 50 injured.

Three pedestrians were killed and many more were injured when the attacker drove a car into members of the public walking over Westminster Bridge before crashing into railings outside the Houses of Parliament.

Armed with knives, Kent-born Khalid Masood, 52, then entered the parliamentary estate before fatally stabbing unarmed PC Keith Palmer, 48. Masood was shot dead by a close protection officer.

‘The justice committee has said and will continue to say that international criminal justice cooperation is vital in the context of terrorism and security,’ Bob Neill MP, the committee’s chair, told Solicitors Journal today.

Just hours before the attack the justice committee had called on the government to prioritise cooperating as closely as possible with the EU on criminal justice once the UK leaves the union.

In its report on the implications of Brexit for the justice system, the committee said the ‘security and safety of the UK’s citizens and residents is too precious to be left to vulnerable tactical bargaining’.

Francis Fitzgibbon QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, told the justice committee in January that the government should separate criminal justice from other matters in Brexit negotiations.

‘I would like to think that there is a way of detaching the whole of that sphere from the bargaining chip negotiations that are plainly going to take place with regard to economic and other matters, because it seems to me that our public safety and protection from terrorism and other serious crime are just too important to put into the mix of poker chips that are likely to be on the table for other things.’

The UK currently benefits from additional investigative resources through EU membership. Europol provides analytical and operational support to national law enforcement authorities, enhancing their capacity to tackle cross-border security threats.

The National Crime Agency told the committee that Europol is ‘a vital tool to tackle serious transnational organised crime and terrorism’.

The government has signalled its intention to cooperate with the EU when its membership ends and has opted into last year’s revised Europol framework.

Also at risk from Brexit would be the UK’s access to Eurojust (the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit), which allows member states’ police, prosecutors, and judiciary to coordinate in the investigation and prosecution of serious crime affecting two or more countries.

The UK also benefits from the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), which provides access to accurate records of EU citizens’ offending.

Meanwhile, the Second Generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) provides the UK with real-time access to all European arrest warrants and other alerts – over 66 million pieces of data.

The NCA said that ‘loss of access to SIS II would seriously inhibit the UK’s ability to identify and arrest people who pose a threat to public safety and security’.

However, the justice committee’s report accepts that continuing the UK’s cooperation with the EU on criminal justice would be complicated even where there is a mutual will to do so.

Evidence given by the Police Foundation think tank claimed ‘Brexit means that [the UK] cannot legally remain a full member of Europol’ so the focus will be on how access to vital intelligence systems will be maintained.

The foundation also noted that ‘there are no previous examples of a non-EU member having access to ECRIS’ so any access would be an ‘unprecedented arrangement’.

The Ministry of Justice told the justice committee that it is exploring options for cooperation arrangements once the UK has left the EU: ‘We will do what is necessary to keep people safe, but it would be wrong to set out unilateral positions on specific measures in advance of negotiations.’

In its Brexit White Paper the government has confirmed it will ‘look to negotiate the best deal we can with the EU to cooperate in the fight against crime and terrorism’.

Matthew Rogers is a legal reporter at Solicitors Journal

matthew.rogers@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @lex_progress

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