The EU Bill and Parliamentary Sovereignty - European Scrutiny Committee Contents



Explanatory Notes

Status of EU law

Clause 18: Status of EU law dependent on continuing statutory basis

104. Clause 18 is a declaratory provision which confirms that directly applicable or directly effective EU law only takes effect in the UK as a result of the existence of an Act of Parliament. The words 'by virtue of an Act of Parliament' cover UK subordinate legislation made under Acts, and because of the particular context of this clause, also covers Acts and Measures of the devolved legislatures in exercise of the powers conferred on them by the relevant UK primary legislation.

105. This reflects the dualist nature of the UK's constitutional model under which no special status is accorded to treaties; the rights and obligations created by them take effect in domestic law through the legislation enacted to give effect to them. Although EU Treaties and judgments of the EU Courts provide that certain provisions of the Treaties, legal instruments made under them, and judgments of the EU Courts have direct application or effect in the domestic law of all of the Member States, such EU law is enforceable in the UK only because domestic legislation, and in particular the European Communities Act 1972, makes express provision for this. This has been clearly recognised by the Courts of the UK. As Lord Denning noted in the case of Macarthys Ltd v. Smith ([1979] 1 WLR 1189): "Community law is part of our law by our own statute, the European Communities Act 1972."

106. This clause has been included in the Bill to address concerns that the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty may in the future be eroded by decisions of the courts. By placing on a statutory footing the common law principle that EU law takes effect in the UK through the will of Parliament and by virtue of an Act of Parliament, this will provide clear authority which can be relied upon to counter arguments that EU law constitutes a new higher autonomous legal order derived from the EU Treaties or international law and principles which has become an integral part of the UK's legal system independent of statute.

107. In the 'Metric Martyrs' case (Thoburn v. Sunderland City Council [2002] EWHC 195 (Admin)), attempts were made, but rejected, to run the proposition that the legislative and judicial institutions of the EU may set limits to the power of Parliament to make laws which regulate the legal relationship between the EU and the UK. It was argued that, in effect, the law of the EU includes the entrenchment of its own supremacy as an autonomous legal order, and the prohibition of its abrogation by the Member States. This argument was rebutted by the High Court, who noted that Parliament cannot bind its successors by stipulating against repeal, wholly or partly, of the European Communities Act 1972.

108. Paragraph 59 of the judgment in the 'Metric Martyrs' case illustrates this point. Lord Justice Laws stated:

    "59. Whatever may be the position elsewhere, the law of England disallows any such assumption. Parliament cannot bind its successors by stipulating against repeal, wholly or partly, of the ECA. It cannot stipulate as to the manner and form of any subsequent legislation. It cannot stipulate against implied repeal any more than it can stipulate against express repeal. Thus there is nothing in the ECA which allows the Court of Justice, or any other institutions of the EU, to touch or qualify the conditions of Parliament's legislative supremacy in the United Kingdom. Not because the legislature chose not to allow it; because by our law it could not allow it. That being so, the legislative and judicial institutions of the EU cannot intrude upon those conditions. The British Parliament has not the authority to authorise any such thing. Being sovereign, it cannot abandon its sovereignty. Accordingly there are no circumstances in which the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice can elevate Community law to a status within the corpus of English domestic law to which it could not aspire by any route of English law itself. This is, of course, the traditional doctrine of sovereignty. If it is to be modified, it certainly cannot be done by the incorporation of external texts. The conditions of Parliament's legislative supremacy in the United Kingdom necessarily remain in the United Kingdom's hands. But the traditional doctrine has in my judgement been modified. It has been done by the common law, wholly consistently with constitutional principle."

109. This clause does not alter the existing relationship between EU law and UK domestic law; in particular, the principle of the primacy of EU law. The rights and obligations assumed by the UK on becoming a member of the EU remain intact.

110. This clause is declaratory of the existing common law position and does not alter the competences of the devolved legislatures or the functions of the Ministers in the devolved administrations as conferred by the relevant UK Act of Parliament.

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