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The British government risks imposing “profound” damage to the UK’s family justice system and could face a raft of legal cases concerning the rights of EU families after the Brexit vote, the House of Lords EU committee has warned today.

Following consultations with cabinet ministers, the Committee said it was “concerned” about the government’s unpreparedness in dealing with the plethora of issues around the legal status of EU citizens and their families after Britain’s exit after 40 years of membership.

Peers also warned on the government’s insistence that it will remove itself entirely from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice as part of its Brexit talks. Along with controlling immigration, the ECJ has been one of prime minister Theresa May’s key red lines in any exit arrangements with the EU.

“If the government adheres rigidly to this policy it will severely constrain its choice of adequate alternative arrangements” said peers.

Concentrating on the area of family law, the report said leaving the EU without any alternative system of rights for families “will have a profound and damaging impact on the UK’s family justice system and those individuals seeking redress within it”.

Areas such as divorce, parental responsibility and international child abduction would be most hit by legal uncertainty, the report added:

To walk away from these two EU Regulations without putting alternatives in place would seriously undermine the family law rights of UK citizens and the UK’s family law system; it would, ultimately, be an act of self-harm.

Nearly nine months on from the referendum, the committee said it was still “unable to discern a clear Government plan as to how the continued post-Brexit operation of these important regulations will be secured and conclude that the Government has not taken full account of the impact of their loss on UK law.”

The government is planning a huge legislative effort in the coming months where it will ensure EU law remains part of the UK’s statute bill on the day of its departure in 2019. This will be enacted through the landmark great repeal bill due later this year.

However Helena Kennedy, chair of the Lords’ committee, said much of the reciprocal rules around the status and rights of EU citizens, families and businesses could not be fully replicated by the great repeal bill.

“We therefore call on the Government to secure adequate alternative arrangements, whether as part of a withdrawal agreement or a transitional deal”, said the Baroness Kennedy.

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