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UK's withdrawal from the EU, and legal aid deserts

28 November 2016

Alexandra Cardenas discusses the latest Brexit developments and looks at legal aid for housing.


This week in parliament there will continue to be a focus on scrutinising the effect that the UK's withdrawal could have on a number of issues including civil justice and home affairs. We will also see ministers from the Ministry of Justice, Attorney General's Office and Home Office answer questions from parliamentarians.

Also, the House of Lords will discuss what steps can be taken to ensure that the public has a better understanding of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

Last week, the Department for Exiting the EU ministers faced scrutiny in parliament. Whilst few notable details of the UK's negotiating strategy were revealed, Brexit secretary David Davis MP did state that the government had not ruled out contributing to the EU budget, potentially in exchange for access to the single market.

There was also a broad debate on access to justice within the House of Commons, where Gerald Jones MP raised the Law Society's legal aid deserts campaign. During the debate, Minister for Courts and Justice Oliver Heald QC MP reiterated the government's commitment to a review of LASPO between 2016 and 2019, but noted that the government were only at the beginning of the time frame they have allocated to undertake the review.

Alexandra Cardenas
Public affairs manager

This week in parliament

Monday 5 December

House of Commons

  • Home Office, including topical questions

Tuesday 6 December

House of Commons

  • Justice, including topical questions
  • Debate - Road traffic accident prevention - Mr Barry Sheerman
  • Home Affairs Select Committee - EU policing and security issues with:
    • Professor Elspeth Guild, professor of Law, Queen Mary University of London
    • Professor Michael Levi, professor of Criminology, University of Cardiff
    • Professor Steve Peers, professor of EU Law and Human Rights Law, University of Essex
    • David Armond, deputy director general, National Crime Agency
    • Temporary deputy assistant commissioner Richard Martin, National Police Chiefs' Council

House of Lords

  • Oral questions - Immigration regime for EU citizens following the UK's withdrawal from the European Union - Lord Green of Deddington
  • EU Justice Sub-Committee - Brexit: civil justice cooperation with:
    • Dr Louise Merrett, reader in International Commercial Law, Cambridge University Faculty of Law, fellow and director of Studies in Law, Cambridge University
    • Professor Richard Fentiman, professor of Private International Law, Cambridge University
    • Professor Steve Peers, professor of European Union Law and Human Rights Law, University of Essex
    • Mr David Williams QC, 4 Paper Buildings
    • Ms Jacqueline Renton, 4 Paper Buildings
    • Professor Rebecca Bailey-Harris, 1 Hare Court

Wednesday 7 December

House of Commons

  • Exiting the European Union Select Committee - The UK's negotiating objectives for its withdrawal from the EU with:
    • Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general, Confederation of British Industry
    • Frances O'Grady, general secretary, British Trades Union Congress
    • John Longworth

House of Lords

  • Oral questions - Promoting public understanding of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary - Lord Beith

Thursday 8 December

House of Commons

  • Attorney general oral questions
  • Exiting the European Union - Oral evidence session - The UK's negotiating objectives for its withdrawal from the EU

Monday 28 November

Government

Government prepares to ratify the Unified Patent Court

  • The UK government confirmed that it is proceeding with preparations to ratify the Unified Patent Court Agreement. This is part of the process needed to realise the Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court (UPCA).
  • Under the new regime, businesses will be able to protect and enforce their patent rights across Europe in a more streamlined way - with a single patent and through a single patent court.
  • Commenting, minister of State for Intellectual Property Baroness Neville Rolfe said that the new system will provide an 'option for businesses that need to protect their inventions across Europe'.
  • On Brexit, Baroness Neville Rolfe said that the UK will continue to play a full and active role while still a member of the EU, 'but the decision to proceed with ratification should not be seen as pre-empting the UK's objectives or position in the forthcoming negotiations with the EU.'

Tuesday 29 November

Nothing to report

Wednesday 30 November

Parliament

House of Commons

Debate on equality of access to the criminal justice system

On Wednesday, a Westminster Hall debate took place on equality of access to justice in the criminal justice system as hosted by Labour MP Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney). The Law Society briefed him ahead of the debate.

Gerald Jones MP specifically mentioned the Law Society's 'campaign devoted' to eradicating legal aid advice deserts. He noted that his own constituency has only one provider. In response to concerns about criminal legal aid fees made by Mr Jones, minister for Courts and Legal Aid Oliver Heald QC noted that the Ministry of Justice were in discussions with the solicitor profession on how to improve the two legal aid schemes.

The other main points by Gerald Jones MP were:

  • On criminal legal aid, he noted that a number of QCs were earning a good living from criminal legal aid cases but there were major concerns that many junior barristers were being paid less than it costs them to travel. He said that solicitors had to do 'much more with much less' and there was a pressure to take on bigger cases loads or compromise on quality and integrity.
  • More broadly, Mr Jones touched on court closures, changes to civil legal aid on LASPO and the lack of evidence of a number of the Ministry of Justice's assertions including that the public has lost faith on legal aid and there has been an increase in the legal aid budget.

In response to the debate, Minister for Courts and Legal Aid Oliver Heald QC MP said:

  • Legal aid deserts for housing - There is housing advice in every part of the country. He noted that in some areas there are a lot more housing cases than others, so provision does not need to be the same across the country. He also said having one provider with several locations does not mean there is not advice. He raised concerns that if it were required to have two firms, it would reduce the work to the provider with the expertise.
  • Criminal legal aid - He noted the reduction in crime, that the number of cases are falling and the work is changing. He said that when it comes to legal aid in criminal cases, there is a case for discussion to improve the new legal aid schemes and that the Ministry of Justice is in productive discussions with the Bar and solicitors to find legal aid schemes which are more attuned with modern needs and for career progression.
  • Civil legal aid - He noted that the government is concentrating civil legal aid on the areas that matter. He noted that it was not true that people could not gain access to legal advice. He said that the Citizens Advice network gives advice on welfare and debt across the country, Shelter have a contract with Legal Aid Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions puts a lot of effort into providing welfare benefit advice.
  • Review of LASPO - The government has only just entered the review period for LASPO so it has until 2018 to undertake a review.

Exiting the EU Committee evidence session - The UK's negotiating objectives

  • The Exiting the EU Committee continued its inquiry into the UK's negotiating objectives in a session with industry representatives covering trade, regulatory issues and financial services.
  • They took evidence from Dr Virginia Acha, executive director for Research, Medical and Innovation, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry; Fergus McReynolds, director of EU Affairs, EEF, The Manufacturer's Organisation; and Gary Campkin, director for Policy and Strategy, TheCityUK.
  • Campkin stressed the value of passporting to both the UK and the EU and argued that taking euro-clearing from London would be difficult to implement.
  • ON WTO and Trade, Campkin said that non-tariff barriers and regulatory issues had lagged behind globally, and that Brexit gave them an opportunity to be at the forefront of negotiating the next generation of trade and investment agreements.
  • Michael Gove (Con) asked McReynolds about an EEF survey that highlighted EU red tape as a huge disadvantage for their members. McReynolds responded that their members wanted regulatory certainty, a level playing field and reduced burden. He said that they were still working to identify the problematic regulations, but key areas included: health and safety, the environment, climate change and employment legislation. Because some of these issues have been incorporated into day-to-day business, wholesale change would not be attractive. Both Acha and Campkin said they would like to see greater cooperation in regulatory issues.

Thursday 1 December

House of Commons

Parliament

Exiting the EU oral questions

On Thursday, the Department for Exiting the EU ministers answered oral questions from the opposition and backbenchers. There were few new developments from the session and the Department for Exiting the EU ministers repeated their broad objectives for the negotiations without giving away much more detail. Of note, the Brexit secretary did not rule out contributing to the EU budget for access to single market.

The following key points of relevance were made:

  • Transitional arrangements - Secretary of state for Exiting the EU, David Davis MP said the UK government is looking for a smooth and orderly exit from the EU. He noted that the UK did not accept the EU's series approach to the negotiations and that the UK wants to negotiate both withdrawal and the new deal at the same time. He also noted that transition means different things to different people - some people see it as a way of extending negotiations and others are talking about measures to ensure financial stability. He also noted that the UK government could not consider whether transitional arrangements were needed until they had their final objective.
  • Article 50 case - Davis noted that the article 50 case at the Supreme Court is wider than a single issue and goes to the heart of the question of royal prerogative. He also noted that the UK government could not put a bill forward at the minute for article 50 as the case could also determine the type of bill needed. He committed to the UK government putting a Bill forward as soon as possible.
  • Reciprocal rights - Davis reconfirmed the UK government's position that they would like to negotiate the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens abroad as soon as possible. He noted that he wished the EU had offered a better response to the UK's demand to deal with this early.
  • Justice and home affairs - Davis reiterated the broad commitment to the UK having a 'full-role' in justice and home affairs matters with the EU and government looking to replicate something similar to what we have now. Following a question from David Burrowes MP (Con), Davis specifically confirmed that the UK government was considering a number of measures, which includes Europol agreements.
  • Timing for the government to outline its plan - Davis hinted that the UK is unlikely to release its plan for the negotiations until closer to when the UK triggers article 50, as he said they will use the full 121 days until triggering to get to the best policy for the UK.
  • Exiting the EU Select Committee - Davis confirmed that he will be giving evidence to the Exiting the EU Select Committee on 14 December. He hinted that he may give more detail of the UK's negotiation plan at this point.
  • EU budget contributions - Davis stated that withdrawing from the EU means that the UK government decides how taxpayers' money is spent. When questioned on whether they would contribute to the EU budget to gain access to the single market, Davis did not rule it out, going on to reiterate that the government is seeking 'best possible access for goods and services.'
  • The UK's outstanding liability to the EU - On the EU's claim that the UK could have an outstanding liability of up to £600 billion, Davis noted that this is the EU's 'opening bid' and the UK government will be 'starting from scratch.'

Friday 2 December

Nothing to report

Tags: Law Society | Theresa May | Westminster weekly update | European Union | access to justice | Parliament | 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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