10th Dec 2022

UK secures justice opt out at tough price

The UK has secured its opt-out from EU justice measures in the bloc's new Reform Treaty but with tough conditions attached.

Under draft rules agreed earlier this week by EU legal experts, the UK could be excluded from EU justice laws that are already signed up to by other member states.

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  • The UK will have to bear any financial costs that may occur from the opt-out (Photo: OLAF)

The draft suggests that if an existing law in the area is amended and the UK wants to opt-out of the amendment and other member states consider that this makes the measure "inoperable" then eventually the law could cease to apply in the UK.

The proposals - to be formally published later today - also suggest that the UK should "bear the direct financial consequences" that could come about as a result of it having stopped participating in an existing law.

Britain won a concession in that the European Court of Justice will not have jurisdiction over EU legislation in the field of police cooperation and judicial cooperation in criminal matters for five years - but only for EU legislation agreed before the treaty comes into force, something expected in 2009.

This would mean that the court could not exercise legal scrutiny over something like the European Arrest Warrant - and therefore citizens would not be able to challenge the legislation - until 2014.

However, the protocol also suggests that if the UK wants to extend the exclusion of the court for longer than the five years then it will be excluded from the legislation in this area that was in place before 2009.

Again, the UK will have to bear any financial costs that may occur because of it.

The draft rules are a result of three weeks of negotiation by the UK to secure its opt outs from EU justice laws and the Schengen Border Control System – something it is expected to use as a key point on the domestic stage in favour of not having a referendum on the treaty.

But its efforts encountered strong resistance from other member states concerned that it could use the provisions to influence the making of a law and then opt out at the last minute - under the proposal, London will have to say within three months if it does not want to take part in legislation.

In general, the provisional rules would make it harder to opt out of the laws in the first place - something that was important to pro-integration countries such as Spain.

Ireland may also join the UK in its opt outs - but Dublin has yet to take a definitive position on the matter.

The treaty will be discussed by EU leaders at a summit in Lisbon later this month with member states hoping to have it signed off by the end of the year and complete ratification by early 2009.

According to Portuguese foreign minister Luis Amado, whose country holds the EU presidency, there is "enormous pressure" to sign up to the treaty.

"There exists a political will," he said, according to AFP, ahead of the 18-19 October summit.

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