David Lidington is MP for Aylesbury, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.
It’s in the interests both of the UK and the rest of the EU that there is an effective, mutually agreed way to resolve cross-border legal disputes once Britain leaves the EU.
Today, in the latest in a series of position papers on our future relationship with the EU, we set out a clear approach to achieving this.
Let me explain why this issue is so important.
More people live their lives and more businesses trade across national borders and different legal jurisdictions than ever before.
Here in Europe, having a clear system that everybody accepts for settling cross-border disputes matters a great deal to the more than one million UK citizens who live in other EU countries, the three million people from the EU27 who live here, and for the tens of thousands of businesses that buy, sell and invest across national frontiers.
For the last 40 years, we in the UK have relied on EU measures for that clear set of rules to manage EU cross-border disputes. As we leave the EU, we need to negotiate new arrangements for future cooperation on civil justice matters.
This isn’t just some technical or academic issue. The current rules mutually benefit people living in UK and the EU, providing a legal route to resolving often difficult or desperate situations.
That could be helping to return home a child abducted by one of their parents. It could be two parents of different nationalities divorcing and agreeing custody and financial arrangements in the best interests of their children. It could be a small business that has been left out of pocket by a supplier based in another EU country.
Whatever the dispute, whether it arises in the UK or elsewhere in the EU, those involved need both clarity and confidence about which country’s courts will hear a case, which country’s law will be used to resolve it and that a judgment obtained in one country can be recognised and enforced in another.
Settling a dispute is stressful enough, the last thing a family or small business needs is undue delays or complexity and the associated cost because of a lack of clarity or certainty about what the law is, and what their rights are. These cross-border disputes will need to continue to be settled once we leave the EU.
As our paper today sets out, we believe the best way to safeguard prosperity for everyone in Europe and ensure that families and businesses have the legal certainty they need is through a new UK/EU agreement modelled on the existing close and comprehensive relationship that we enjoy.
That involves reciprocal arrangements with other Member States which mean, for example, that they recognise and enforce judgments of UK courts, and our courts recognise and enforce those from courts in the 27 states of the EU.
The UK has a long history of co-operation on justice issues with the EU and internationally, and we want that to continue. So it’s our intention to continue to participate in the various international agreements on civil judicial cooperation, such as the Hague Conventions, after we leave the EU.
The United Kingdom is and will remain deeply committed to the rule of law both domestically and internationally. We have a world-renowned judiciary, courts that are fiercely independent of governments and vested interests of any kind, and a world-class legal services sector. We shall continue to work internationally on justice issues and to promote the rule of law.
I believe that our proposed approach towards co-operation on justice matters between the UK and EU will be mutually beneficial. It will provide legal clarity and certainty. It will allow families to get on with their lives and make possible speedy legal resolutions to very sensitive and difficult personal disputes. It will give both customers and suppliers in the EU and the UK confidence that contracts can be enforced across national borders.
An agreement on future civil judicial cooperation would be a clear demonstration by both sides in the negotiation that we are indeed putting citizens first. Such a deal could also be one of the first elements of that deep and special partnership with the EU27 – our friends and neighbours- that we look to build for the future.