Europe-wide reforms to the administration of justice were variously described as 'utterly pointless', 'an assault on democratic values' and a 'sledgehammer to crack a nut' at last weekend's plenary session of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE).

The criticisms from all corners of Europe throw into sharp relief the lack of unity among EU member states in the run-up to Thursday's European parliamentary elections.

The rift is particularly apparent between states with common law jurisdictions and the majority.

The European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) is a case in point. This is to be a body with the remit to prosecute criminals who have defrauded or attempted to defraud the European Commission.

The UK and Ireland, both common law jurisdictions, have stated that they intend to opt out of it, leading one lawyer at the session in Verona to declare that the two countries are 'wilfully' ignoring what really goes on in the EU.

A member of the CCBE's criminal law committee raised fears about another planned UK opt-out. The UK plans, with effect from 1 December, to withdraw from more than 100 European criminal law measures.

'There may be problems with some of the measures,' she said, 'but the UK is best placed to correct them by being in the inner circle, not out in the cold alone.'

Other topics discussed in Verona last weekend included: Portugal after the troika; legal developments in Crimea and Ukraine; and Hungary as prime minister Viktor Orban begins his second four-year term of office.

A feature on the plenary session will appear in the 2 June issue of the Gazette.

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