There has been much in the press recently about the UK Government being minded to opt out, and/or in, of EU criminal justice measures. The implications of this decision will be significant to the UK’s ability to investigate and prosecute crime. So what does it all mean?
Opting out of what?
The UK managed to negotiate the quite remarkable article 10 to protocol 36 of the Lisbon Treaty which allows for the UK to exercise a power that no other member state of the Union holds. The Lisbon Treaty finally incorporates EU criminal justice measures (which are referred to as the area of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters) into the main body of treaty law.
In order to do so, it allowed a transitional period of five years (which expires in December 2014), at the end of which, all measures adopted under the earlier treaty provisions (in what was known as the third pillar) are ‘Lisbonised.’ What this means is they become directives rather than framework decisions (and various other equivalents). The difference between the two is that directives are enforceable before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) and decisions are not.