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Transforming our justice system

16 September 2016

Alexandra Cardenas discusses new proposals to reform the courts system and the government's plan for the renegotiation of a deal with the EU.


Both Houses will be in recess from the end of this week until Monday 10 October for party conferences. 

• The season will start on 17 September with the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton until Tuesday 20 September, attended by the Law Society's deputy vice president, Christina Blacklaws.

• This will be followed by the Labour Conference in Liverpool from Sunday 25 to Wednesday 28 September, attended by the vice president, Joe Egan.

• The Conservative Party Conference will take place in Birmingham from Sunday 2 until Wednesday 5 October, attended by the president, Robert Bourns.

The CEO and office holders, as well as the Public Affairs team, will be present at conferences, organising dinners and events with politicians from the three political parties to discuss issues that are topical for our members, in particular Brexit and access to justice. 

In a joint paper entitled Transforming Our Justice System (PDF), the Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss MP, the Senior President of Tribunals, Sir Ernest Ryder, and the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, set out new plans to reform the courts system. The paper is now open for consultation and the Law Society will submit a response.

In Parliament, the Wales Bill that aims to change Welsh devolution to a reserved powers model incorporating important new devolution powers over energy, transport and elections had its first reading in the House of Lords. The Bill will be discussed in second reading on 10 October.

As part of their inquiry into Parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit, the Lords European Union Select Committee took evidence from David Davis MP, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, about the government's plan for the renegotiation of a deal with the EU. 

Monday 12 September

Parliament

House of Lords: Investigatory Powers Bill

Day six of Committee Stage took place in the House, where peers continued to discuss amendments to the Bill.

Lords European Union Select Committee hearing from Secretary of State for Exiting the EU

The Lords European Union Select Committee took evidence from Rt Hon David Davis MP, Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, as part of their inquiry into Parliamentary scrutiny of Brexit. 

Davis remained unclear about detailed aspects of the process of Brexit negotiations and how Parliamentary scrutiny will supervise this. He emphasised that the government would not share much information before Article 50 is invoked, even in private hearings, as this would undermine their negotiating stance. However, there will be a much more open process after it is triggered, including the publication of 'clear negotiating guidelines'. 

Watch the session in full

Tuesday 13 September

Parliament

House of Lords: first reading 

The Wales Bill that aims to change Welsh devolution to a reserved powers model incorporating important new devolution powers over energy, transport and elections had its first reading in the House of Lords. The Bill will be discussed in second reading on 10 October.

See the progress of the bill

Wednesday 14 September

Nothing to report.

Thursday 15 September

Government

Joint paper and consultation on courts reform announced

The Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss MP, the Senior President of Tribunals, Sir Ernest Ryder, and the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, set out new plans to reform the courts system in a joint paper, Transforming Our Justice System (PDF). The new measure was announced as part of a series of £1bn reforms. Under the new plan:

  • Vulnerable victims and witnesses will no longer have to appear in court under new plans to roll out pre-trial evidence sessions
  • Cross-examinations will be recorded and played during the trial
  • Legal jargon to be replaced by simple language
  • Defendants will be able to go online to plead guilty to some minor offences and pay fines
  • Paper forms will be scrapped to 'go digital' in every court and tribunal in England and Wales

In relation to the legal profession, the report says that 'for lawyers especially, innovation will be invaluable: to find new ways of delivering services, of simplifying working practices, of focusing more on meeting the needs of all their clients, from defendants to families and civil claimants. Much is already being done by the legal professions, but the reforms will enable them to be much more ambitious. We are confident that they share our commitment to working together to shape a modern court system'. 

A consultation was also launched seeking stakeholders' view on certain specific measures. Where required, legislation will be brought forward in due course. The deadline for submitting responses is Thursday 27 October.

Read the consultation

Ministry of Justice

Consultation outcome: Proposals to amend Immigration and Asylum Chamber fees 

The government has published its response to the consultation on proposals to reform the fees charged in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal. The consultation paper was published on 21 April 2016 and closed on 3 June 2016. 

Read the full report

The response announced the Ministry of Justice's intention to:

• Increase the fee payable for an application to the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) for a decision on the papers from £80 to £490

• Increase the fee payable for an application to the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) for an oral hearing from £140 to £800

• Introduce a fee of £455 for an application to the First-tier Tribunal for permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal

• Introduce a fee of £350 for an application to the Upper Tribunal for permission to appeal in that Tribunal (where the application to the First-tier Tribunal has been refused)

• Introduce an appeal fee in the Upper Tribunal of £510

• Introduce extensions to the existing exemptions and remissions scheme that applies in the First-tier Tribunal and consider whether the same scheme should apply in the Upper Tribunal.

Parliament

House of Commons: Parliamentary debate on domestic violence

On Thursday there was a backbench business debate on domestic abuse victims in family courts. The Law Society sent a briefing to MPs that were expected to speak in the debate. The debate focused on the Women's Aid report 'Nineteen Child Homicides', and everyone that spoke in the debate endorsed the recommendations made in that report. 

A number of our concerns on domestic violence and abuse victims in family courts were raised including: 

• Angela Smith (Lab) discussed the ongoing failure of statutory agencies and the judiciary to understand that abuse often involves power and coercion. She called for:

the Ministry of Justice to take action to ensure the legal framework is properly implemented

practice changes to the ways the courts work

resources dedicated to ensuring the professional training of court staff and the judiciary 

Government to indicate that they will do all that is necessary to improve the relationships and the information shared between statutory agencies and the family courts. 

• Legal aid and cross examination by perpetrators of abuse was mentioned by almost every speaker. Angela Smith (Lab) called for reform of legal aid changes to ensure representation in family courts is adequate and sufficient, to avoid the situation where abused women are cross-examined by their abusers.

• Specifically, Keir Starmer (Lab) agreed, saying that we need to learn from the progress made in the criminal courts, in particular, to start counting cases with litigants in person to understand how many are victims of domestic abuse. 

• Richard Burgon (Lab) said that the time limit for submitting evidence for legal aid is arbitrary, and it would be more appropriate for an assessment of relevance to be made. He criticised the failure of the government to start the review into the effects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, and called for this to be undertaken as soon as possible. 

Responding on behalf of the government, Dr Phillip Lee, Parliamentary-Under Secretary of State for Justice, said that the government has been working with domestic abuse support groups and legal representative bodies to gather information on the legal aid evidence requirements. He added that there is room for improvement and will be working with the judiciary to consider what additional protections may be necessary for vulnerable victims and witnesses in the family justice system. Lee agreed that there is insufficient data on trends in the family justice system, and assured the House that evidence-based policy would be at the heart of his work.

Friday 16 September

Both Houses are in recess until Monday 10 October.

Parliament

House of Commons: Written Question Answered: Court Closures

Philip Davies MP (Conservative) asked the Justice Secretary whether MoJ officials had discussed with non-governmental bodies the proposals for further court closures in Greater London in the next 10 years.

Minister for the Courts and Justice Sir Oliver Heald QC MP responded by stating HM Courts & Tribunals Service keeps its operational estate under review to make sure that it aligns with the delivery of reformed court and tribunal services. 

On 15 September, the government published a consultation on the future of Camberwell Green and Hammersmith Magistrates' Courts, and any further proposals will be subject to public consultation. 

Tags: Investigatory Powers Bill | Westminster weekly update | Brexit | courts

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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