Brexit problems likely to fall to courts to resolve, says NI judiciary chief

Problems from Brexit will probably fall to courts to resolve, the head of Northern Ireland’s judiciary has said.

Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland Sir Declan Morgan stressed it was too early to say which, if any, issues would arise but noted public debate over the future of the European Arrest Warrant.

This warrant is employed for sending suspected criminals either way across the Irish border to face courts.

Coronavirus – Fri Oct 23, 2020
Coronavirus – Fri Oct 23, 2020

Sir Declan said: “That is a matter of safety and how procedures might be put in place to deal with that.

“Some of these things will give rise to problems and the matter will come before the courts.”

He noted from experience, he said, that it was rare that legislation was well written enough to avoid any prospect of legal challenge.

“There is an expectation that if Brexit comes to pass that the problems will come to the fore and that the court will be asked to deal with them,” he said.

Sir Declan gave evidence before a committee of Stormont assembly members on Thursday during a discussion which touched on the EU withdrawal.

He added: “It does not necessarily follow that civil and political rights are going to be materially impacted.”

Laganside Court
Laganside Court

The senior judge said the impact of Brexit on law was yet to be seen.

“Anyone who predicts any of this is way ahead of the posse,” he said.

“I can see the force of saying that if we are changing our relationship with Europe in a meaningful way, that it makes sense to take a look and see what the pluses and minuses are from the point of view of all rights.”

He recalled when media fiercely criticised three members of the judiciary over their judgments before the separation.

They had ruled that the UK Government was required to obtain the consent of Parliament to give notice of Brexit.

We're meeting today at 2pm to hear evidence from the Right Honourable Sir Declan Morgan, Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland @JudiciaryNI. You can watch the meeting live ⬇️

— AdHoc-BillofRights (@NIABillofRights) November 26, 2020

Sir Declan said: “It is maybe more important that the judiciary are seen to be able to speak truth to power.

“No-one really disputes now that the decision which was the subject of that headline was absolutely right, that Parliament should be in control and it was not for the executive to go off and start changing the law on its own.”

He said the nature of cases before courts had changed to include social rights since the Human Rights Act was introduced into UK law.

“Judges to some extent, I think, would lose their reputation for integrity and independence if they were not prepared to deal with whatever Parliament has decided should be put in front of them,” he said.

“We have had a lot of social issues put in front of my court over the last 10 or 11 years since I became chief justice, that 10 or 11 years before would never have come before us.

“They have made it difficult for courts from time to time but I do not think, in this jurisdiction anyway, there has been a material impact upon public confidence in the independence and integrity of the judiciary.

“At the end of the day, we have to deal with cases that come in front of us and apply the law to them.”