Queen’s speech 2021: what does it mean for solicitors and the law?
Our public affairs team highlights some of the key bills from the Queen’s speech, outlining those most relevant to solicitors in the government’s legislative agenda for the next year.
Tuesday 11 May saw the state opening of Parliament and the delivery of the Queen’s speech, outlining the government’s legislative agenda for the next year.
The Queen announced a series of bills that will seek to enact key parts of the Conservative party’s 2019 election manifesto and help the country “build back better” from the pandemic.
The justice system and individual safety were a central theme. The Queen announced that the government will bring forward new immigration legislation and a Judicial Review Bill, as well as carrying over the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.
Another area of note for solicitors was the focus on issues in the property market: planning reform, leasehold reform and building safety all form part of the new legislative agenda.
Jobs and skills formed another central theme, as the government seeks to deliver on its promise to “level up” the UK. Of most interest will be the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which will create a new “lifetime skills guarantee” for every adult.
Justice and safety
One of the major themes of the speech was criminal justice and protecting individuals from crime.
The government’s briefing states its intention to “build back safer” after the pandemic by “toughening sentences for serious and violent offenders and doing more to prevent violence against women and girls”.
As part of its criminal justice recovery plan, the government’s briefing also notes it will implement measures to tackle the backlog of cases in the courts, such as:
- increasing capacity in courts”
- running Crown courts "to the fullest possible extent”
- using "every judge and courtroom" to maximise court sitting days
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
The Queen re-stated the government’s intention to carry over this bill from the previous session.
Wide-ranging measures will:
- increase sentences for violent offenders
- introduce changes to pre-charge bail, remote juries and remote hearings
Victims and online safety
The Queen also announced plans to bring forward two draft bills aimed at offering support to potential victims of crime.
A draft Victims Bill will:
- simplify and strengthen the rights of victims of crime
- improve victims’ experience of the criminal justice system
- set expectations for the standard and availability of support for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence
The draft Online Safety Bill will introduce laws to keep people safe online, especially children, while ensuring that users’ rights (including freedom of expression) are protected when they are online.
New plan for immigration
As part of the government’s plans to “introduce measures to increase the safety and security of its citizens”, this bill aims to help establish a fairer immigration system that deters criminals who facilitate illegal border crossings into the UK.
Counter-State Threats Bill
This bill will provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with tools to tackle the evolving threat from hostile activity by states and actors.
Proposals include creating a foreign influence registration scheme for those working in the UK on behalf of foreign governments.
Democracy and the constitution
Another major theme of the speech was plans to “strengthen and renew democracy and the constitution”.
Judicial Review Bill
This bill aims to “restore the balance of power between the executive, legislature and the courts”.
The government’s briefing states the bill’s purpose as to “protect the judiciary from being drawn into political questions and preserve the integrity of judicial review for its intended purpose – which is to hold the government and public authorities to account, apply the intent of parliament, and protect individuals’ rights”.
The briefing includes proposals to:
- remove Cart judicial reviews
- introduce suspended quashing orders
Any proposals will be subject to the outcome of the ongoing consultation.
Electoral Integrity Bill
This bill will aim to:
- tackle electoral fraud
- prevent foreign interference
- introduce measures that will make it easier for British expats to take part in elections
Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill
This bill will seek to "strengthen academic freedom and free speech" in universities in England.
Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill
This would repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, allowing the prime minister to call early elections at a time of their choosing.
To address the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, legislation will be brought forward in the next session “that delivers better outcomes for victims and survivors…[and] ends the cycle of investigations”.
The Queen introduced bills that aim to promote higher housing safety standards and “help more people to own their own home whilst enhancing the rights of those who rent”.
This will seek to modernise the planning system, allowing more homes to be built.
Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill
This will seek to ban the collection of ground rents for new leasehold properties.
Building Safety Bill
This will create a new building safety regulator to “ensure that the tragedies of the past are never repeated”.
Renters Reform Bill
The government’s briefing also outlined plans to reform tenancy law, including the abolition of section 21 'no-fault' evictions.
A white paper will be published in the autumn, with legislation expected shortly afterwards.
The speech also covered the government’s commitment to help the UK bounce back from the pandemic “stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before” by supporting jobs and skills, and working to ensure that all UK regions can access the skills they require.
To this end, the government will bring forward the following bills:
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill
This bill will seek to support the government’s lifetime skills guarantee, enabling people to access high-quality education and training throughout their life.
Professional Qualifications Bill
This bill will create a new framework to recognise professional qualifications from around the world, replacing the interim system that currently gives preference to professional qualifications from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
Other key bills
Mental Health Act reform
While no bill was announced, the government restated its commitment to reforming the Mental Health Act. The government will respond to its consultation on the topic later this year, which will pave the way for future legislation.
Subsidy Control Bill
This will create a domestic subsidy control regime that reflects the UK’s strategic interests, proving a legal framework within which public authorities will make subsidy decisions.
This will introduce a framework for legally binding environment targets and establish a new independent Office for Environmental Protection.
Public Service Pensions and Judicial Offices Bill
This includes provisions to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges.