Westminster update: Law Society granted permission to take government to court

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.
The palace of Westminster in the evening.
Photograph: Thomas Riebesehl

What you need to know

1. Legal Aid: Law Society granted permission to take government to court

The high court granted the Law Society permission to bring a judicial review challenge against the government.

The application for permission was made after the government failed to increase criminal defence solicitors’ legal aid rates by the bare minimum 15%, as recommended by Lord Bellamy’s independent review on criminal legal aid.

We’ve been granted permission on all three grounds which requested that the government’s decision not to implement the key recommendation of the Bellamy review was irrational, lacked reasons and was in breach of the constitutional right of access to justice.

This is a significant step forward in our fight for the future of the criminal justice system.

We are calling on the lord chancellor to engage with us and address our concerns around their criminal legal aid proposals without the need for continued intervention from the court.

We are keen to work with the government to find a way forward to make criminal legal aid work financially viable for defence solicitors.

More than 1,400 duty solicitors have left the profession since 2017 and without urgent intervention many people could be left without access to a lawyer when they desperately need advice, causing further delays for victims and the police.

We look forward to working with the lord chancellor to solve this crisis.

2. Justice Week 2023

On Monday 19 June, our president Lubna Shuja was joined by the lord chancellor, the attorney general and many more parliamentarians to a reception in Parliament to launch Justice Week 2023.

Lubna highlighted the economic value of the profession and emphasised the importance of improving access to justice.

The lord chancellor was keen to stress his desire to work closely with the Law Society and the Bar Council to increase opportunities for English and Welsh lawyers around the world. He praised the Law Society for the recent landmark signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Bar Council of India and stressed that legal services should be on the agenda for future foreign trade negotiations.

Among the other parliamentarians in attendance were:

  • solicitor general, Michael Tomlinson
  • chair of the Justice Select Committee, Sir Bob Neill
  • justice minister Ed Argar
  • shadow solicitor general Andy Slaughter

It was a great chance to speak for the legal sector, share successes and goals for the future, and raise policy concerns with parliamentarians.

3. Economic Crime Bill: 75 Government amendments agreed

Tuesday 20 June saw the latest stage of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill in the Lords.

Peers nodded through government amendments on Companies House reform and discussed changes to the Register of Overseas Entities (ROE) requirements.

Our representatives have been working closely with officials and peers to ensure that this new legislation is workable and doesn't create unnecessary burdens for solicitors.

There were three non-government amendments which went to a vote on Tuesday.

These focused on reducing the timeframe for reporting changes of ROE in property transactions, disclosing the names of nominees, and trusts information.

The Bill has its second day of report on 27 June where the discussion will touch on the proposed new regulatory objective on economic crime and a government amendment to address strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).

4. Conservative peers express concern about the Illegal Migration Bill

The final few days of the Illegal Migration Bill’s committee stage saw several more Conservative peers raise their concerns about the possible detrimental effects of the Bill – particularly with regard to victims of trafficking and modern slavery.

Baroness Helic (Conservative) said that she supported the group of amendments on modern slavery, stating, ‘if we want to prevent dangerous illegal migration, we need to tackle the traffickers who facilitate it. Targeting their victims will only make that harder.’

Lord Cormack (Conservative) went further in saying the Bill is ‘a shoddy piece of legislation. It is not worthy of the British Parliament. It is not worthy of a Conservative Government, and I will say little more about it other than I feel a shame that is in sharp contrast to the feelings I had in 2015 when Theresa May’s Bill [the Modern Slavery Act 2015] became an Act of Parliament.’

Lord McColl of Dulwich (Conservative) went as far as to table his own amendments on the Bill, which sought to prevent Clauses 21 and 28 of the Bill being commenced until the government have appointed an independent anti-slavery commissioner.

These Conservative peers join the large number of opposition and crossbench peers already in open dissent about the effect the Bill may have on victims.

We continue to work with peers across the House to table amendments which will temper the Bill’s provisions in an effort to reduce the likely harm to victims.

Coming up:

We will be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:

Illegal Migration Bill will have its report stage in the Lords on 28 June.

Retained EU Law Bill will have its consideration of Commons motions in the Lords on 26 June.

Victims and Prisoners Bill will have its committee stage in the Commons on 27 June.

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill will have its report stage in the Lords on 27 June.

National Security Bill will have its consideration of Commons amendments on 26 June.

Powers of Attorney Bill will have its committee stage in the Lords on 4 July.

Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill will have its report stage in the Commons, date to be confirmed.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will have its report stage in the Lords on 11 July.

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