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The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Supremacy and the Court of Justice

Published Wednesday, November 8, 2017

This Commons Library briefing paper has been prepared for days 1 and 3 of the Committee Stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (EUW Bill) in the House of Commons. It addresses clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill which together provide instructions to the courts on the status and interpretation of retained EU law (the new category of law which clauses 2, 3 and 4 of the EUW Bill would create).

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This briefing paper examines:

A central aim of legislating for Brexit is to ensure that UK institutions have the final say over the laws that apply in the UK. The EUW Bill is designed to ensure that Parliament and domestic courts, rather than the EU’s institutions, decide on the content and meaning of the law post-Brexit. During the referendum campaign in 2016, the successful Vote Leave campaign argued that the CJEU “overruled UK laws” and that the principle of the supremacy of EU law “stops the British public from being able to vote out those who make our laws”.[1]

Taken together clauses 5 and 6 provide for a new relationship between domestic law and EU law. Once the UK is no longer a member of the EU, and the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA) is repealed, EU law will no longer be supreme over new laws made by Parliament. Further, UK courts will no longer be bound to follow the judgments of the CJEU handed down after exit day.

This Bill includes measures that enable retained EU law to have priority over some domestic law in certain circumstances (clause 5(2)), and that CJEU judgments given before exit day will continue to be binding precedents in most domestic courts (clause 6(3)). Clause 6(2) also enables a domestic court to take account of CJEU judgments given after exit day “if it considers it appropriate to do so”.  

Just as the status of EU law was clarified by the courts it is likely the status of retained EU law and its relationship with other constitutional legislation will be tested and clarified in the courts.

There is some uncertainty over how the provisions in clauses 5 and 6 of this Bill would interact with the withdrawal agreement, and the domestic legislation needed to implement it.



Commons Briefing papers CBP-8133

Author: Jack Simson Caird

Topics: Administration of justice, Constitution, EU law and treaties

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