On 27 March 2020, the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee published a short progress report on key Justice-related issues in the negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship following the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.
The report covered citizens' rights, intellectual property, consumer protection, civil justice co-operation and criminal justice co-operation.
Perhaps the points to highlight from the summary are:-
- Citizens' rights - There are concerns about the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK Government's EU settlement scheme as well as a certain lack of clarity as to the position of UK citizens in certain EU member states;
- Intellectual property - Some concern was expressed at the UK Government's decision not to participate in the Unified Patent Court system, which would have allowed applicants to apply for a single patent that would be recognised by all participating states ( both EU and non-EU);
- Consumer protection - The Committee would like a clear public statement from the UK Government that the UK remains committed to high standards of consumer protection;
- Civil justice co-operation - The Committee looks to see progress on the agreement of standardised rules relating to (and mutual recognition of) marriage and divorce proceedings, child custody, and the handling of contract disputes. Family law proceedings were highlighted as an area of particular concern;
- Criminal justice co-operation - The Committee highlighted the UK's approach to Human Rights issues (and in particular the question of whether the UK will continue to adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights) and personal data protection issues as central to the future level of co-operation between the UK and EU on criminal justice matters.
On 30 March 2020, the UK and EU held the first meeting of their Joint Committee (which had to be teleconference because of Covid-19 measures) set up under the Withdrawal Agreement to monitor progress on, and deal with issues arising from, the implementation of that Agreement. The reported exchange of views seems to have been quite amicable and the Joint Committee also agreed to start the work of the six Specialised Committees reporting to the Joint Committee - on citizens' rights; other separation provisions; the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland; the Protocol relating to the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus; the Protocol on Gibraltar; and financial provisions. This sounds positive but the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee clearly feels that that there is a lot to do, particularly with regard to Justice-related issues.
Meanwhile, as reported in The Times on 31 March 2020, old controversies are beginning to stir between Brexiteers and others as to whether or not the transition period should be extended so as to enable a comprehensive UK-EU agreement on their future relationship to be reached. Whether or not Covid-19 will be a game-changer in this regard is as yet too early to say.