Fri 28 January 2022

UK law enforcement can no longer immediately access real-time data about persons and objects of interest, including wanted and missing persons

Peers have raised “grave concerns” about the UK’s failure to reach a co-operation agreement with the EU over family law covering child abduction, divorce, maintenance and domestic abuse cases as part of its Brexit deal.

One of the latest reports of the House of Lords’ EU Committee on policing and law enforcement states that the instant exchange of information in both civil and criminal cases will not take place because of the Government no longer accepts the European Court of Justice of the European Union.

On family law, peers said: “Since early 2017, a series of expert witnesses and legal practitioners have warned us that if and when… Brussels regulations fell away, the UK would fall back on a more complex and less effective web of international conventions and instruments. 

“We have heard particularly grave concerns over the implications in the family law areas of child maintenance, international child abduction and divorce. The only dissenting voice we heard was that of the then minister, Lord Keen of Elie, speaking in September 2020, who described falling back on the Hague Conventions as ‘entirely satisfactory’.”

However David Hodson, of the International Family Law Group, said that relying on the Hague Convention should not significantly affect arrangements – with the exception of domestic abuse cases. The convention provides for an expeditious method to return a child who has been internationally abducted by a parent from one member country to another.

“Under Theresa May’s agreement, EU and UK law on domestic abuse was to remain aligned but Boris Johnson decided that the UK should go its own way,” he said.

Peers also criticised the Government for not acting fast enough to join the Lugano Convention, which allows civil case judgments to be automatically recognised in all EU member states. The UK requires unanimous agreement from all of the convention’s members to join – and so far Denmark and the EU have declined to admit the UK.

“There has accordingly been an avoidable hiatus between the end of the transition period and the safety net provided by membership of the Lugano Convention,” the peers said. “We call on the Government to explain the reasons for this delay and to outline the steps it is taking to engage with the EU to reach a resolution.”

The report states that, in terms of criminal cases, the UK no longer has access to data files held by the Schengen countries which provided results within seconds, and now has to rely on the slower Interpol.

“It means that, for the time being, law enforcement officers can no longer immediately have access to real-time data about persons and objects of interest, including wanted and missing persons,” it said. “The fall-back system, the Interpol I-24/7 database, currently provides data in a matter of hours, not seconds”.

The peers also provided a warning about police co-operation with the EU and the protection of databases: “The Government told us that it will be a matter of ‘choice’ whether or not it remains aligned to EU legislation as it evolves. If it does not, the UK could lose access to vital policing and law enforcement data, or find itself facing a formal dispute with the EU.”

Ironically, given the UK’s decision to opt-out of the European Court of Justice of the European Union, some of the changes in EU law will depend on rulings from the court which would then affect the UK.

Other reports from the House of Lords’ EU Committee have warned that the real impact on business travel, mutual recognition of qualifications and the right to work in the EU will only become apparent when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

Much of the decision-making in these areas will depend on different rules in individual EU countries. But examples noted include British professionally-qualified ski instructors not being allowed to work in France; or orchestras, pop concert tours and exhibition organisers being restricted in where they can perform and how long they can stay.


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