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Westminster weekly update: Law Society’s Executive Director of External Affairs gives evidence to the Lord Liaison Committee

14 June 2018

Yesterday in the House of Lords, the Law Society’s Executive Director of External Affairs, Robert Khan, gave oral evidence to the Lord Liaison Committee’s review of Lords’ committees and made important points on pre and post legislative scrutiny and the role of the committees in examining secondary legislation post Brexit.


London Technology Week 2018 is underway. Our contribution this year is the launch of the Law Society’s Commission on technology, which will explore the use of algorithms within the justice system. We will hear oral evidence from experts and take written evidence from practitioners, academics and interested stakeholders. We will then publish a report on whether the use of algorithms in the justice system in England and Wales should be regulated, and if so, what should this framework look like. More details are available here.

Yesterday in the House of Lords, the Law Society’s Executive Director of External Affairs, Robert Khan, gave oral evidence to the Lord Liaison Committee’s review of Lords’ committees and made important points on pre and post legislative scrutiny and the role of the committees in examining secondary legislation post Brexit.

The Civil Liability Bill was debated in the House of Lords. Disappointingly, an amendment to remove the tariff compensation system for whiplash was defeated by 13 votes. The Law Society briefed parliamentarians in advance and we were mentioned throughout the debate. We will continue to campaign on this issue as the bill progresses to the House of Commons.

The second day of considering the Lords Amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill took place yesterday. The Government won the debate on the meaningful vote following a compromise with pro EU Conservatives. MPs will consider further amendments on the customs union, European Economic Area and the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Oral Justice questions took place in the House of Commons last week and the Law Society’s call for an independent review into legal aid and campaign on early advice was referenced. Richard Miller, the Law Society’s Head of Justice, gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee last week as part of their inquiry on the court modernisation programme.

This week in Parliament

Monday 11 June

House of Commons

  • Legislation: Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill - 2nd reading

House of Lords

  • Improving performance on immigration matters in the Home Office - Lord Roberts of Llandudno
  • European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Consideration of Commons amendments - Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, Lord Callanan

Tuesday 12 June

House of Commons

  • Justice - Oral Evidence Session Criminal legal aid
  • Consideration of Lords amendments - European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Day 1
  • Oral questions: Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (including Topical Questions)
  • Home Affairs - Oral Evidence Session, Post-Brexit migration policy

House of Lords

  • Legislation: Civil Liability Bill [HL] - Report stage

Wednesday 13 June

House of Commons

  • Women and Equalities - Oral Evidence Session, Sexual harassment of women and girls in public places
  • Justice - Oral Evidence Session, Disclosure of evidence in criminal cases
  • Women and Equalities - Oral Evidence Session, Sexual harassment in the workplace
  • European Scrutiny - Oral Evidence Session, EU Withdrawal

House of Lords

  • Liaison Committee (Lords) - Oral Evidence Session, Review of investigative and scrutiny committees

Thursday 14 June

House of Commons

  • Oral questions Exiting the European Union (including Topical Questions)

House of Lords

  • Debate: Impact of the Government's "hostile environment" approach towards illegal immigration on those with residency and employment rights - Lord Bassam of Brighton

Last week in Parliament

Monday 4 June

House of Commons

Home Office Questions

Home Office questions took place in the House of Commons last week.

The full session transcript can be found here and a summary is included below:

Refugee family reunion rules

  • Jo Stevens MP (Labour, Cardiff Central) asked if the Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP will take steps to expand the scope of the refugee family reunion rules. The Home Secretary replied that the Government’s approach provided safe and legal routes for families to access the UK and they were actively monitoring and reviewing the situations.
  • Jo Stevens MP followed up and asked when the UK would allow the closest relatives of refugee children to be allowed into the country. In reply, Sajid Javid MP said that they were further reviewing the situation but there was a concern that if children could sponsor then there could be safeguarding issues.

Domestic violence

  • Bambos Charalambous MP (Labour, Enfield, Southgate) asked what the timetable is for bringing forward legislative proposals on domestic violence and abuse. Responding, Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability Minister, Victoria Atkins MP said that the consultation on this closed last week, and that the Government was now analysing the responses to. It remained the case that a draft bill would be brought forward in this session (until May 2019).

EU citizens

  • Kate Green MP (Labour, Stretford and Urmston) asked what recent assessment the Home Office has made of the adequacy of the new process for non-UK EU citizens resident in the UK to apply for settled status. Responding, Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes MP said the application process for EU citizens to UK citizenship would be straightforward, easy and have a customer contact centre. Applicants would only have to give their identity, proof of residence and demonstrate they were not a serious criminal or security threat.

Immigration

  • Craig Tracey MP (Conservative North Warwickshire) asked what the Home Office was doing to implement a fair, effective and sustainable immigration system. He also asked what steps the Government was taking to ensure the balance between immigration levels and professional vacancies in the UK economy. In response, Caroline Nokes MP said the Government was was establishing an immigration system which fitted the economic and social objectives of the UK, said they were looking again at the Tier 2 visa system.

Modern slavery

  • Gareth Snell MP (Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central) asked the Home Secretary what steps his Department was taking to tackle modern slavery. Mr Snell also asked what would be done to ensure that the next commissioner had the powers and character needed to tackle slavery. Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability Minister Victoria Atkins MP replied saying the Government would ensure that the commissioner was robust and independent.

Tuesday 5 June

House of Commons

Justice Questions

Justice questions took place in the House of Commons last Tuesday. Gavin Newlands MP noted the Law Society, in our evidence to the Justice Committee, has praised the independent review of Scottish legal aid. Our campaign on early advice was also referenced.

The full session transcript can be read here and a summary is included below:

Legal aid

  • Anna Turley MP (Labour, Redcar) asked what assessment had been made on the effect of the decline in the number of people receiving legal aid for early legal help on access to justice. Responding, Justice Minister Lucy Frazer MP acknowledged the importance of early legal help and highlighted almost £100m committed to this last year.
  • Anna Turley MP also raised a constituency case related to legal aid being denied to an unemployed domestic abuse survivor. In reply, Lucy Frazer MP said that many of the guidelines related to domestic violence had been changed to widen access to legal aid.
  • Shadow Justice Secretary, Richard Burgon MP asked if the Government would publish MoJ research indicating that judges were concerned over cuts to legal aid. Responding, Justice Minister Lucy Frazer MP said the Government was reviewing the relevant legislation.
  • Following this, Richard Burgon MP stated that judges felt that the number of unrepresented defendants had increased since legal aid changes were brought in, and this was damaging the efficiency of the courts. In reply, Lucy Frazer MP said most of those surveyed did not believe the changes had had a negative impact.
  • Gavin Newlands MP (SNP, Paisley and Renfrewshire North) called for an independent review of the legal aid situation in England, similar to the one in Scotland. Responding, Lucy Frazer MP said she had looked at this review and would see what lessons could be learnt in England and Wales, such as video links or online courts.
  • Mike Kane MP (Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East) noted the low pay of one of his constituents working in legal aid and asked if this was enough. Responding, the Justice Minister said it was important that criminal legal aid barristers and solicitors are paid appropriately for their work.

Access to Justice

  • Nic Dakin MP (Labour, Scunthorpe) asked what assessment the MoJ had made of the effect of court closures on access to justice. Responding, Lucy Frazer MP detailed the proposed reforms to improve the justice system and said that between 2016-17 14 per cent of courts were used at less than half hearing capacity. Lucy Frazer MP also said that revenue generated from the sale of court buildings was reinvested back into the justice system.
  • Victoria Prentis MP (Conservative, Banbury) asked the Government what steps had been taken to investigate the use of other public buildings for court services. Responding, Justice Minister Lucy Frazer MP noted she had read Ms Prentis’ response to the ongoing consultation and said the Government would look at utilising other buildings for court processes.
  • Shadow Justice Minister, Yasmin Qureshi MP raised statistics from the National Audit Office (NAO) showing the overspend on the courts programme and asked if this would result in MoJ cuts elsewhere. Responding, Lucy Frazer MP said that this was an “ambitious programme” and cited the progress the NAO had spoken of in its report.
  • Ruth George MP (Labour, High Peak) asked if the Minister had made an assessment on the report of the Justice Select committee that said raising the small claims limit would “represent an unacceptable barrier to justice”. In response, Lucy Frazer MP said the Justice Department had brought in the small civil claims court which enables claims to be brought very quickly online, often without the need for legal representation.

Court reform

  • Phillip Dunne MP (Conservative, Ludlow) asked what assessment the Government has made of the effectiveness of its programme to modernise the court system. Lucy Frazer MP said the Government was making significant progress in spending £1bn to modernise the courts system and highlighted the introduction of the civil online court for making civil claims online as an example.

Brexit

  • Lee Rowley MP (Conservative, North East Derbyshire) asked what steps the Government plans to take to ensure that the UK legal system operates effectively after the UK leaves the EU. Lucy Frazer MP responded, saying as a department the MoJ was helping law firms get the best arrangement with the EU post Brexit on the recognition and enforcement of judgements, and the mutual recognition of qualifications.

Wednesday 6 June

House of Commons

Richard Miller evidence to PAC

Richard Miller, Head of Justice, the Law Society, gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee as part of their inquiry on the court modernisation programme.

The Committee is currently holding an inquiry into ‘transforming courts and tribunals’ following the publication of a report on the topic by the National Audit Office in May 2018.

Richard Miller appeared on the first panel, alongside Penelope Gibbs of Transform Justice, and Jo Edwards, former Chair of Resolution.

The second panel was formed of Richard Heaton, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, Susan Acland-Hood, Chief Executive, HMCTS, and Richard Goodman, Change Director, Ministry of Justice.

During this first panel:

  • Miller contrasted the different strands and differences in the civil and criminal modernisation projects. He raised concerns regarding video link in court and said that the Law Society are not satisfied that these changes will ensure that justice outcomes are fairer.
  • He said that the Law Society are supportive of modernisation in the courts and said that it could, in particular, improve efficiency of administrative hearings. Miller raised concerns regarding court closures and, in particular, on modern courts at Cambridge and Camberwell being proposed for closure after recent upgrading. He raised concerns about rural areas where public transport is limited where victims, witnesses and others could be travelling on the same transport and be subject to intimidation. He raised concerns about how utilisation rates were applied.
  • He raised significant concerns on legal advice and representation and where it fits into an online system.
  • Miller called for the flexible operating hours pilot to be paused and for the Government to reconsider what it is trying to achieve.
  • Gibbs spoke about the opportunities and threats that court modernisation poses, primarily focusing on ensuring that users of courts have better experiences of the justice system and that there are less delays, that access to justice is promoted throughout. She said that the Government need to provide in the public domain evidence and research and modelling for the future.
  • Gibbs called on the Government to focus on justice outcomes, and to pause for thought on their court modernisation programme.
  • She raised concerns about the need to understand the implications of extending the use of online and video link into the courts system and said that every criminal case can have a significant impact on individuals futures.
  • She said that she is concerned on the impact on vulnerable people and for those where English is a second language.
  • Edwards spoke about the programme as ambitions and described the unprecedented scale of work to be achieved. She said that while she is supportive of modernising the justice system, it has to be done right.
  • She spoke about the impact on individuals in family cases and raised concerns around court closures. She said there has been 119 in the past three years, while there has been an increasing caseload and said that travel times have increased significantly for individuals to access the courts. She called on the Government to stop and take stock of the programme and focus on access to justice and clarifying the direction of travel. She highlighted concerns regarding legal aid cuts and the lack of early legal advice.
  • She raised concerns regarding the impact of reforms on litigants in person and transparency of the courts.

During the second panel:

  • In response to the publication of a draft report on unrepresented defendants by Buzzfeed, Heaton said that they had published the full report.
  • Heaton spoke about upcoming legislation on courts and said further legislation would be brought in on criminal procedure, employment tribunals and on online procedure.
  • He said that primary legislation was needed for the optimum version of the transformation of courts and tribunals but said that the lack of legislation is not holding up progress at this stage.
  • He spoke about the timescales initially set being too ambitious and said that the current timescales were realistic.
  • Acland-Hood said that online services have started to deliver good services for the public but said that parts of the programme are still not progressing satisfactorily. She highlighted concerns on the common platform as part of the crime programme, and on the flexible operating hours pilot.
  • She said that HMCTS are considering the consultation on Cambridge Court and detailed the factors which are considered as part of consultations on the future of individual courts, including utilisation rates and travel time. She said there is no statistical link between court closures and numbers of people failing to appear.
  • In identifying the top 3 risks to the programme, Acland-Hood, Heaton and Goodman spoke about how the programme needed to focus on users, that they need to engage with partners and the public and bring them on. They need to focus on the delivery of the benefits that the programme intends to bring in and identified risks in economic uncertainties and the pace of the crime programme.

House of Lords

Legislation to modernise the courts system

On Wednesday there was an oral question in the House of Lords regarding legislation to modernise the courts system. The transcript of the session can be found here and a short summary is included below.

  • Lord Beith (Liberal Democrat) asked why measures announced in the Queen’s Speech were not brought forward as part of the recently introduced Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill. Responding, the Minister Lord Keen of Elie said that the Bill is the first step in implementing the wider reform package which the Government remains committed to.
  • Lord Pannick (Crossbench) asked why the Bill did not include rules for an online procedure in courts and tribunals in appropriate cases. Responding, the Minister Lord Keen of Elie said that the Government intend to bring forward all of the reforms anticipated and that they will do so when parliamentary time allows.
  • Baroness Couttie (Conservative) raised concerns from the Federation of Small Businesses on the online court system and asked what the Government is doing to ensure that the ‘offline’ system is efficient. Responding, the Minister Lord Keen of Elie said that the online systems are being piloted in a number of areas and that the Government is keen to ensure that those who engage with our courts are able to do so efficiently.
  • Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (Liberal Democrat) called for accessibility and support so that court users are able to navigate their way through the process. Responding, the Minister Lord Keen of Elie said that following passage of the Bill staff will be in a position to provide advice as they have in the past.
  • The Earl of Listowel (Crossbencher) asked about youth justice and argued that the Government should be more effective in dealing with young people through youth courts to slow re-offending rates. Responding, the Minister Lord Keen of Elie agreed.
  • Lord Beecham (Labour) criticised court closures and cuts to legal aid, and the increased pressure on the system. He said the Government should focus on securing access to justice as part of their reforms. Responding, the Minister Lord Keen of Elie said that access to justice is at the centre of the reform programme and that they are looking to maximise the benefits of the reformed courts and tribunals service.
  • Lord Vinson (Conservative) criticised the high cost of lawyers’ fees. Responding, the Minister Lord Keen of Elie said that the Government is taking steps to contain the cost of access to justice.

Question or comments? Contact the Public Affairs team at parliamentary@lawsociety.org.uk or 020 7320 5858.

Tags: Westminster weekly update | European Union | legal aid | Brexit

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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