Westminster update: new…
Your weekly update from our public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.
Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.
The Law Society has submitted its response to the criminal legal aid review, warning that the criminal defence profession could collapse if the Government does not increase funding.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) published a report on Thursday 8 July following its inquiry on the Government’s Independent Human Rights Act Review (IHRAR). The report argued that there is no evidence to suggest that the Human Rights Act is in need of amendment, reflecting the overall argument of the Law Society’s submission to the inquiry.
The Law Society was mentioned four times in the report, with the committee endorsing our views on several key issues being considered by the IHRAR. The JCHR noted that the “overwhelming majority” of the evidence it received was positive about the use of section 3, and the report cited the Law Society’s argument that “there are few notable examples of courts using broad section 3 interpretations”.
On proposals to limit the extraterritorial application of the Human Rights Act, the JCHR stated that the Law Society’s submission “expressed the general sentiment” of the evidence they had received in arguing that such a move “would have further perverse consequences for the advancement of human rights and for the rule of law overall”.
On Monday 5 July, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill passed its report stage and third reading in the House of Commons. The Law Society’s briefing was quoted by David Davis (Conservative), who said he agreed entirely with our view that pre-charge bail timelines in the bill could have a significant impact on civil liberties. Later in the debate, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, argued that changes to pre-charge bail would provide greater reassurance to victims of crime.
As with previous stages, debate primarily focused on the bill’s provisions to provide greater powers for policing protests and on whether the legislation did enough to end violence against women.
The Shadow Lord Chancellor, David Lammy, echoed our concerns that remote juries may have an impact on access to justice and argued that provisions for increased use of remote hearings should not be enacted until a full review of their effect has been carried out. The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, highlighted the work done by the Government to protect women and girls and said further protection for victims would come through the ongoing work around victims law.
The bill will now begin its stages in the House of Lords. The Law Society will continue to work with peers to shape this important legislation.
On Wednesday 7 July, the Prime Minister sat before the Liaison Committee to face questions from select committee chairs. The session focused on the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), COVID-19 and the secondary impacts of the pandemic, and the post-Brexit impact.
During the session, the chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts (Labour), questioned the Prime Minister on the carbon emissions caused by housing. The Law Society has called on the Government to ensure that the measures included in the upcoming Planning Reform Bill are carbon net-zero compatible. Betts asked the Prime Minister if the Government had a plan for how it was going to reach carbon net zero in housing.
The Prime Minister said that before COP26 in November the Government would publish a plan on how it would provide financial support for social housing and owner-occupiers to stop using fossil fuel boilers.
On Tuesday 6 July, the Government confirmed that work on the royal commission on the criminal justice system, announced at the 2019 Queen’s Speech, has been temporarily stopped. Responding to an oral question in the House of Lords, Justice Minister Lord Wolfson confirmed that work had been halted to enable the Ministry of Justice to focus on its response to the pandemic and the additional challenges this had created. He also said that it is likely the effect of the pandemic on the criminal justice system would also need to be taken into account when the commission begins its work.
Lord Wolfson added that when the commission did launch, it would seek a broad range of views from stakeholders across the justice system.
Tuesday 6 July saw the Government introduce its new Nationality and Borders Bill in the Commons. The bill is the cornerstone of the Government’s New Plan for Immigration and will seek to reform the UK’s asylum system.
Under the bill, asylum seekers deemed to have arrived in the UK illegally will no longer have the same entitlements as those who arrive in the country via legal routes. The Law Society has raised concerns that this provision may breach our commitments under international law by creating a two-tier asylum system.
Other measures include the ability for the Government to block visas for visitors from countries the Home Secretary believes are refusing to cooperate in taking back asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected. The bill could also allow offshore asylum processing.
The bill will have its second reading debate across two days on July 19 and 20. The Law Society will be working with MPs to encourage the Government to ensure the bill commits to upholding the rule of law and promoting access to justice.
The Law Society will be working closely with MPs and peers and contributing to a number of upcoming bills, debates and inquiries in Parliament. In the coming weeks we'll be focusing on the following.
The bill started its progression through the House of Lords this week, and the date for its second reading has yet to be confirmed. We will be briefing key peers ahead of the next debate.
The next sitting of the bill’s House of Lords committee stage will take place on Monday 12 July. The Law Society has briefed peers on our key concerns with the bill.
The next stage of the bill will be its House of Lords report stage, the date of which is has not yet been confirmed.
The Law Society will be preparing briefs for the House of Lords report stage, due to take place on Tuesday 20 July, and is working with peers to bring forward amendments.
The bill is scheduled to have its House of Commons second reading on Wednesday 21 July. The Law Society is currently preparing briefings for MPs which will be circulated prior to the debate.
The bill will be having its House of Commons second reading on Monday 19 July, and the Law Society will be briefing MPs before the debate.
The date for the bill's upcoming House of Commons first reading has not yet been confirmed, although it is expected to take place before parliament goes on recess on 22 July.
We'll be submitting written evidence the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry into co-habiting couples by the deadline of 31 July. We'll also be responding to a Ministry of Justice consultation on proposals to increase probate fees, which will run until 23 September.
We'll also be briefing MPs in preparation for upcoming oral questions for the Home Office on 12 July; Department for International Trade on 15 July; Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government on19 July; and the Foreign Office on 20 July.
On Tuesday 6 July, the hard work of legal aid lawyers was recognised by the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards.Read our press release