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Brexit: political turmoil

15 July 2016

Alexandra Cardenas considers the new prime minister's key ministerial appointments following the EU referendum and Conservative party reshuffle. 


We now come to the end of week three of political turmoil following the Brexit vote at the end of June, with the dust settling and sense of normality beginning to emerge. The week began with Conservative Party leadership hopeful Andrea Leadsom MP dropping out of the race, citing a need for a strong leader in a time of uncertainty and that she did not have strong enough support of her parliamentary colleagues to continue. 

The new prime minister, Theresa May MP, has already made her key ministerial appointments, with a full cabinet now in place and junior ministerial positions to follow in the coming days. Eyebrows were raised both at home and among the international community when leader of the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson, was made foreign secretary. Of key interest to the Law Society was the sacking of Michael Gove MP from government and the appointment of former environment secretary Liz Truss MP as lord chancellor, the first woman to hold this office in its history. This reshuffle of the justice team also saw the resignation of the minister for civil justice, Lord Faulks. His replacement is yet to be announced.

The Law Society will be reaching out to Ms Truss and will work to forge a strong working relationship with her office, along with a number of other new senior government ministers. 

Monday 11 July

Parliament

House of Commons: implications of Investigatory Powers Bill - Constitution Committee 

The Constitution Committee published a report on the Investigatory Powers Bill, focusing on the creation of Judicial Commissioners. The Committee has stressed the importance of both judicial independence and the appearance of independence and make recommendations for protecting both. 

Read the report (PDF)

The Committee had voiced its concerns that the Bill gives too great a role to the prime minister in the appointment of individuals fulfilling the judicial function. They have endorsed the recommendation of the Joint Committee that scrutinised the Bill in draft - that the Lord Chief Justice should appoint Judicial Commissioners, subject to consultation with his counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland and with the prime minister and his counterparts in the devolved administrations.

The Committee also calls for the prime minister to play no substantive part in the reappointment (after three years in post) and dismissal of Judicial Commissioners, and for the Lord Chief Justice instead to take the lead in relation to such matters.

Currently the Bill allows the government, using secondary legislation, to alter the functions of the Judicial Commissioners in relation to their oversight role.

The Committee is concerned that this gives the government power to weaken an oversight regime of which it was the subject. It recommends that the power is restricted to extending and augmenting the Commissioners' oversight functions, so that those functions are able to keep up with technological or other developments.

Tuesday 12 July

Parliament

House of Commons: Court closures in London - Written Question answered

Conservative MP Philip Davies asked the justice secretary whether the Ministry of Justice (specifically Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service) is planning on further court closures in Greater London in the next 10 years. 

Shailesh Vara MP, the minister for the courts and legal aid, responded by simply stating that Her Majesty's Courts & Tribunals Service keeps its operational estate under review to make sure that it aligns with the delivery of reformed court and tribunal services, and that any new proposals to close courts will be subject to public consultation. 

Wednesday 13 July

Government

Ministry of Justice: The Law Commission - 13th Programme of Law Reform

Sir David Bean, chairman of the Law Commission, announced that an independent body will be launching the consultation for its 13th Programme of Law Reform on 14 July 2016. The responses they receive will inform the majority of the Law Commission's work from 2017 to 2020.

The Commission will be asking for suggestions about possible changes to the substantive law of England and Wales, including (but not limited to) those where Parliament has legislated, or secondary legislation has been enacted, in response to EU directives.

It will also be suggesting potential projects that could form part of the programme. The Commission is asking for stakeholders' views on these, and whether they think they should form part of its work in the next few years.

This consultation will be an important opportunity to help shape the future priorities for law reform in England and Wales. Given the uncertainty resulting from the referendum, Sir David says this will almost certainly have a significant impact upon the legal landscape of England and Wales, and the Law Commission is willing to adapt to the new environment. He goes on to say that that there are still many other areas of the law that cause real problems for British citizens and require urgent reform, and that the need for modern, simple and accessible law remains as great as ever.

Parliament

Legal aid and domestic violence - Written Question Answered

Former shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter MP asked the justice secretary what steps the government is taking to investigate the effect of means testing for legal aid on the ability of domestic violence survivors to access justice. 

Shailesh Vara MP, the minister for the courts and legal aid, replied saying that the government is completely clear that victims of domestic violence must have access to the help that they need, including access to legal aid. 

He went on to state that his department are working closely with various domestic abuse support groups and legal representative bodies to gather information about the existing evidence requirements for obtaining legal aid in private family law cases involving domestic violence. 

He furthered this by saying that whilst examination of means testing is not the purpose of this exercise, the review may uncover any issues relating to application of the means test to this particular group.

Thursday 14 July

Parliament

Prime minister's office: new Cabinet positions appointed

Prime minister Theresa May appointed her new Cabinet on Thursday. Of key interest, aside from the appointment of Liz Truss as lord chancellor, is the creation of two new cabinet positions - secretary of state for international trade and secretary of state for exiting the EU. Please see below for key ministerial positions of relevance to the Law Society: 

• Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice - Elizabeth Truss MP

• Chancellor of the Exchequer - Philip Hammond MP

• Secretary of State for International Trade - Liam Fox MP

• Secretary of State for Exiting the EU - David Davis MP

• Secretary of State for Home Department - Amber Rudd MP

• Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth - Boris Johnson MP

• Secretary of State for International Development - Priti Patel MP

• Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy - Greg Clark MP

• Secretary of State for Wales - Alun Cairns MP

Of the whole cabinet, Theresa May has appointed eight women out of 23 positions, one more than former prime minister David Cameron. There are also seven ministers who campaigned for Leave in the Cabinet.

In addition to the appointments above, Downing Street has confirmed that the following MPs have left the government: 

• Michael Gove MP (Former Justice Secretary)

• George Osborne MP (Former Chancellor of the Exchequer)

• Theresa Villiers MP (Former Northern Ireland Secretary)

• Nicky Morgan MP (Former Education Secretary and Equalities Minister) 

• John Whittingdale MP (Former Culture Secretary) 

• Oliver Letwin MP (Former head of EU Unit in Cabinet Office)

• Stephen Crabb MP (Former Work and Pensions Secretary)

The new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has said there will be no emergency budget to deal with the economic effects of Brexit, and he will deliver an Autumn Statement as normal. Hammond also added that no decision had been taken on when to trigger article 50 to begin formal negotiations with the EU.

Parliament

House of Lords: debate - legal professional privilege 

Amendments to Clause 27 of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which were tabled by Lord Pannick on behalf of the Law Society, were debated in the House of Lords. The Law Society's position was widely supported by peers who spoke in the debate, including Lord Lester, Baroness Hamwee, Baroness Hayter, Lord Carlile, and Lord Mackay. The Society briefed peers ahead of this debate and met those who contributed.  

Please see below a summary of the key points raised:

• Lord Pannick said that the amendments supported by the Law Society were designed to encourage the government to think further.

• From the meeting he has had with Lord Keen, the Advocate General for Scotland, he understands that the government recognises that legal professional privilege (LPP) needs protection and it is minded to put forward amendments at Report Stage.

• However, he believed that a controversial point remained, as the government wanted to retain the power for the authorities to listen into conversations when there is no reason to think the iniquity exception applies but the discussion may reveal some facts enabling the authorities to stop a crime.

• He asked if the government could provide any example of when the authorities have listened into "perfectly proper" conversations between a lawyer and client, and obtained information that has prevented a crime.

• He argued that the government was asking Parliament to approve something that it was purely of theoretical value, because such powers might not be used. However, their existence will do a great damage to the rule of law, preventing lawyers from giving frank advice to the client (chilling effect).

• Lord Carlile, Lord Lester, Baroness Hamwee, and Baroness Hayter expressed their support to the amendments. They all highlighted that these powers seemed to lack proportionality. In particular, Lord Lester pointed out that one should not "burn the house down to roast the pig". 

• In his response, Lord Keen stated that the government recognised the importance of LPP and noted that it was one of the most important issues in the Bill. Although he could not provide any example of when the agencies had used these powers since Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) came into force in 2000, he insisted that this did not mean that the need for those powers could not arise in the future. 

• However, Lord Keen argued that the government welcomed the amendments, but could not provide any clear answer at this stage.

Read the transcript

Friday 15 July

Nothing to report.

Tags: Investigatory Powers Bill | Westminster weekly update | European Union | 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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