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Investigatory Powers Bill debated

24 October 2016

Alexandra Cardenas takes a look at the report stage debates on the Investigatory Powers Bill.


This week in parliament focused on Brexit and legislative scrutiny of bills in both houses.

The Investigatory Powers Bill continued its report stage in the House of Lords, and next week will proceed to its third reading. The Law Society presented evidence before the Neighbourhood Planning Bill Committee, and met with parliamentarians to discuss the Homelessness Reduction Bill.

Richard Heaton, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, delivered evidence before the Justice Select Committee, and focused on court modernisation and Brexit. There were six debates in the House of Lords on Brexit and its effects on security, trade and financial services. The House of Lords also discussed preventing vexatious law suits against servicemen.

Monday 17 October

Parliament - House of Lords

Investigatory Powers Bill - Report stage

The Investigatory Powers Bill was debated at report stage in the House of Lords for the second time - during the day's debate, the government made several amendments to the bill.

Defence minister the Earl Howe moved a group of amendments, including amendment 132, which were intended to address the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly had not provided legislative consent for the bill.

'In the absence of legislative consent, the existing office of the investigatory powers commissioner for Northern Ireland will not be abolished. Consequently, the bill need no longer provide for the first minister and deputy first minister to be consulted on the appointment of the IPC. Similarly, the prime minister will no longer be under a statutory duty to send them a copy of the investigatory powers commissioner's annual report', he told the house.

Lords Ministry of Justice spokesperson Lord Keen of Elie moved amendment 146, which was to guarantee that everyone who had worked with a public authority or had done so in the past would cooperate with the investigatory powers adviser (IPC).

He also moved amendment 147 set out how the IPC would have access to advisers necessary to undertake their statutory functions.

Ministers accepted amendments 142 and 145, moved by crossbench peer Lord Janvrin. Amendment 142 sought to place constraints on the use of so-called 'thematic warrants', which were used in relation to groups of people sharing in a common activity or purpose. Amendment 145 concerned the referral of cases to the IPC.

The bill will continue at report stage on 19 October 2016.

Tuesday 18 October

Parliament - House of Commons

Tabled question answered - Fixed recoverable costs

Conservative MP Philip Davies tabled a question to the justice secretary on what assessment the Ministry of Justice made of proposals set out in January 2016 by Lord Justice Jackson, to set fixed costs on all personal injury claims valued up to £250,000 [and what steps the government is taking to control costs and promote access to justice in this area.]

Minister for justice and the courts, Sir Oliver Heald, answered by stating that on 15 September, the government announced that it is keen to extend fixed recoverable costs to as many civil cases as possible. The senior judiciary will be developing proposals and the government will consult in due course.

He went on to state that in addition to this, the Department of Health is currently considering the introduction of fixed recoverable costs in lower value clinical negligence claims, on which it expects to consult as soon as practicable. Furthermore, the Ministry of Justice has asked the Civil Justice Council to consider and make recommendations on the possible introduction of fixed recoverable costs in noise induced hearing loss cases.

Justice Select Committee - Richard Heaton, permanent secretary

Richard Heaton (permanent secretary of the Ministry of Justice) and Mike Driver (chief financial officer) gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee on Ministry of Justice's account and annual report.

Key points of relevance to the Law Society were:

86 court closures

Richard Heaton (RH) said that court reform is about a better system, not just savings, so does not anticipate any increase in waiting times as a direct result. Chair Bob Neill MP asked about the maximum reasonable travel time for witnesses (Shailesh Vara MP, when minister for Courts and Legal Aid, said one hour). Mr Heaton was not aware of this but will write to confirm the ministry's position.

Mr Heaton went on to inform the committee that the disposal of court buildings is projected to raise £300m. Around £150m comes from a small number of courts in South East. Property values in London have been hit hardest by uncertainty because of uncertainty around Brexit. The committee raised concern that this was a significant risk to funding for court reform.

Bob Neill spoke about a 34 per cent increase in Crown Court backlogs (March '13 - Sept '15)- waiting time for Crown Court hearings has increased by 35 per cent (from 99 to 134 days). He asked 'what has gone wrong?' RH said it was principally that the case mix coming into the courts is more complex, particularly there has been an increase in sexual offences. Low-level cases have been dropping, with high level cases increasing.

Brexit

The committee identified the main issues for the ministry as prisoner transfer, human rights, crown dependency issues. RH added civil, intellectual property and family case judgement enforcement across Europe, cross-European criminal justice, and legal services market (promoting and practice rights). Regarding the recognition of professional qualifications, the ministry is engaging with regulators and representative/professional bodies in England and Wales. Alberto Costa MP asked about the Law Society of Scotland. Mr Heaton said the ministry would welcome direct engagement with Law Society of Scotland.

Staff cuts

700 staff cuts, predominantly from hq functions, have left through a voluntary early departure scheme across the ministry and the legal aid agency so far. There is no particular figure envisioned for this yet, but further reductions in 'admin' headcount are expected.

Wednesday 19 October

Parliament - House of Lords

Investigatory Powers Bill - Report stage

The Investigatory Powers Bill was debated for a third time, with a large number of amendments made by the government, most of which passed with little debate or discussion.

Crossbench peer Lord Janvrin put one amendment forward, while crossbench peer Lord Butler of Brockwell also made two amendments. All three related to the offence of breaching safeguards relating to examination of material under bulk interception warrants.

An amendment put forward by Liberal Democrat Lords home affairs spokesperson Lord Paddick fell at division. He had proposed that a bulk acquisition warrant should not require data which related to internet connection records. He argued that such records should only be accesses in cases of proven need.

Lords Ministry of Justice spokesperson, Lord Keen of Elie, stated that the power the amendment wished to remove already existed in legislation and was vital in the current climate. He went on to defend the safeguards in the bill.

Concluding, he argued that the bulk acquisition power should remain technologically neutral.

The bill will now proceed to third reading on 25 October 2016.

Short debate - EU withdrawal on peace and security

Lord Collins of Highbury led a debate on the implications for foreign and security policy cooperation with European countries of the result of the referendum for the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. The debate was proposed by Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat), a former professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, and can be accessed here.

Thursday 20 October

Nothing relevant to report.

Friday 21 October

Nothing relevant to report.

Tags: Investigatory Powers Bill | Westminster weekly update

About the author

Alexandra Cardenas is Head of Public Affairs and Campaigns at the Law Society. Public Affairs manages the relationships with parliament and government. She is a dual qualified solicitor in England and Wales (2014), and Colombia (2002). Prior to the Society, she practised as a human rights lawyer and worked at Macmillan Cancer Support and Animal Defenders International.

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