Open Europe Blog

Has Conservative policy towards ECJ 
power over crime and policing changed?

The chaos of yesterday’s ‘vote’ or ‘non vote’ on the European Arrest Warrant has obscured a number of things. Not only have the 10 actual measures been waved through, without discussion and scrutiny, but the Home Secretary has avoided having to make a statement on future Conservative policy towards renegotiating the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) power over crime and policing.

Firstly, here are some of the measures ‘adopted’ last night without debate and without much publicity.

  • Confiscation Orders 
  • Mutual recognition of sentences 
  • Trials in absentia 
  • Mutual recognition of financial penalties

They are substantial in their own right and on 1 December all will be subject to the ECJ’s jurisdiction.

Will a future Conservative Government renegotiate this area?

Removing the UK justice system from the remit of EU judges has been a Conservative policy for a number of years and one we agree with. When it became clear that the Conservatives could not block the Lisbon Treaty David Cameron stated:

“The third area where we will negotiate for a return of powers is criminal justice. We must be sure that the measures included in the Lisbon Treaty will not bring creeping control over our criminal justice system by EU judges. We will want to prevent EU judges gaining steadily greater control over our criminal justice system by negotiating an arrangement which would protect it” [4 November 2009]

This was followed up in the 2010 Conservative Manifesto:

“Conservative government will negotiate for three specific guarantees – on the Charter of fundamental rights, on criminal justice, and on social and employment legislation – with our European partners to return powers that we believe should reside with the UK, not the EU. We seek a mandate to negotiate the return of these powers from the EU to the UK.”

Clearly, the Coalition Agreement overtook these previous texts, but Theresa May and Chris Grayling have both stated during this Parliament that the ECJ’s role would likely feature in any future EU renegotiation. On 16 July 2013, as we set out here, Theresa May was quite explicit:

“Undoubtedly the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will need to be considered when, after the election, a future Conservative Government renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union”

So it was a surprise that Theresa May writing in the Sunday Telegraph on 9 November did not restate this position. The question is whether we should read anything into this, but as the smoke clears it remains to be seen whether a majority Conservative Government would ‘let matters rest’.

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