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Home Articles posted by Hannah Woolaver

Could International Law Stop a No-Deal Brexit?

Published on October 16, 2019        Author: 

At the time of writing – less than 3 weeks until the current ‘Brexit day’ of 31 October 2019 –  all options relating to the UK’s departure from the European Union appear to be on the table. Leaving with a deal, ‘crashing out’, not leaving at all, or anything in between seem equally possible. Much attention has been paid to the UK’s constitutional requirements governing the executive’s actions in relation to Brexit, as well as the domestic legal consequences of flouting them. The possibility of Prime Minister Johnson going to jail for violating these requirements has even been considered. However, not much has been said about the potential international law consequences. Here I explore whether international law could prevent a No-Deal Brexit – or, more precisely, whether a failure to comply with domestic constitutional requirements may prevent the UK’s withdrawal from the EU from taking effect in international law. This discussion draws on my recent work exploring the role of domestic law in the international legal validity of treaty withdrawal more generally.

The starting point for this discussion is Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) – by now, likely the most famous treaty exit clause in legal history. Art 50 states, in part:

  1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

  2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. …

  3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

For our purposes,  Art 50(1) is the key provision. This, unusually, makes the triggering of withdrawal from the EU explicitly contingent on compliance with the State’s domestic constitutional requirements.  Thus, in principle, if there is a failure to comply with those constitutional requirements, the decision to withdraw is invalid according to the TEU. In the 2018 Wightman decision, the ECJ affirmed that “the decision to withdraw is for that Member State alone to take, in accordance with its constitutional requirements, and therefore depends solely on its sovereign choice” (at para. 50).

While a full dissection of the UK’s constitutional requirements for leaving the EU is not possible here, there are two clear domestic law limitations constraining the UK executive’s prerogative in relation to Art 50. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Unconstitutional and Invalid: South Africa’s Withdrawal from the ICC Barred (For Now)

Published on February 27, 2017        Author: 

On 22 February 2017, the South African High Court handed down a significant decision invalidating South Africa’s notice of withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The case was brought by the official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, and joined by a number of civil society actors. The court’s conclusion that prior parliamentary approval was necessary before South Africa could withdraw from the ICC bears similarities to the recent decision of the UK Supreme Court on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

The South African judgment concerned the decision of the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation to send a notice of withdrawal to the UN Secretary-General in October 2016 (see my previous post on this for more details), without prior announcement that the government had decided to withdraw from the ICC, nor any public consultation on the matter. The government’s reasons for leaving the ICC, as surveyed by Dapo, had centred on the claim that the Rome Statute and the South African legislation domesticating the Rome Statute (the ‘Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act of 2002’), required the government to arrest sitting African heads of State, contrary to customary international law rules on immunity. This, it was argued, undermined South Africa’s peace-making efforts on the Continent. These issues had come to a head during President Bashir’s visit to South Africa in June 2015, when South Africa had failed to execute outstanding ICC arrest warrants against him. This led to non-cooperation proceedings against South Africa at the ICC (which will take place in April), and South African High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal decisions holding the government’s failure to arrest President Bashir to be unconstitutional. The pushback was not well received by the South African Executive.

Given the 12-month notice period prescribed in Article 127(1) of the Rome Statute of the ICC, South Africa was set to leave the court in October 2017. However, the High Court decision has, at the very least, pushed back the timeline for withdrawal (absent a rapid successful appeal by the government). It also presents an important, and perhaps final, opportunity to engage the government concerning its decision to leave the ICC. Here I give a brief overview of the decision, highlighting certain issues concerning parliamentary involvement in treaty withdrawal, and discuss some possibilities for persuading South Africa to retain its membership in the ICC.

The High Court Decision

The High Court was faced with a question similar to that decided by the UK Supreme Court in the recent Brexit decision – can the Executive withdraw from an international treaty, which had been ratified and domesticated by Parliament, without prior Parliamentary approval? The question is not directly addressed by the South African Constitution, which contains no explicit provision on treaty withdrawal, and had not yet received judicial attention. Like the UK Supreme Court, the South African High Court answered in the negative. It held that since section 231(2) of the South African Constitution requires Parliamentary approval for treaties subject to ratification, this section also by implication requires the consent of Parliament to withdraw from such treaties. Therefore, the notice of withdrawal was unconstitutional and invalid. Read the rest of this entry…

 

International and Domestic Implications of South Africa’s Withdrawal from the ICC

Published on October 24, 2016        Author: 

In the early hours of Friday 21 October 2016, it was revealed that the South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation had issued official notification of South Africa’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (a copy of the instrument of withdrawal can be seen here). This was received by the UN Secretary-General, starting the prescribed 12-month notice period for withdrawal from the Court (Article 127 of the Rome Statute). This announcement came as a shock to many in the legal community in South Africa and abroad. While the South African government had expressed unhappiness with the Court, and had previously threatened withdrawal, there was no public indication that an official decision to withdraw had been taken, nor had any public consultation taken place on the matter in Parliament or elsewhere.

This decision will have significant implications for the legal landscape in South Africa, and likely also for the position of other African States in the ICC. It is also possible that it will lead to the fundamental weakening of the ICC itself. Here I consider various implications of this sudden announcement, both from the domestic South African and international perspectives. First, I address the status of the instrument of withdrawal in international and domestic law. I then look at the impact of withdrawal for the enforcement of international criminal law in South Africa. Finally, I address some possible consequences for the ICC itself.

Is it Legal?

The first question is whether the notice of withdrawal signed by the Minister is lawful, from the lenses of international and domestic law, given that this was a purely Executive act that was not preceded by any form of public or parliamentary consultation, let alone approval. Similar questions arise in the context of the Brexit ‘Article 50’ debate. While it seems that the instrument of withdrawal is likely sufficient to take effect in international law, it is doubtful that the domestic legal requirements have been adhered to. Read the rest of this entry…