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Second Reading debate of the Prisons and Courts Bill and its implications for access to justice

20 March 2017

This week access to justice will be at the top of the parliamentary agenda.

Today the House of Commons will debate the Prisons and Courts Bill in its second reading, which will give MPs the opportunity to discuss the principles of the bill. We engaged with parliamentarians ahead of the debate and produced a parliamentary briefing.

The EU Select Committee of the House of Lords also published the report Brexit: justice for families, individuals and businesses? The Law Society's evidence and calls are quoted extensively.

Later this week, the House of Lords' Constitution Committee will take evidence from the lord chief justice of England and Wales on the recruitment and retention of judges, diversity in the legal profession, public perception of the legal system and the programme to modernise the court estates. The president gave evidence to the Constitution Committee last week as part of its inquiry on judicial appointments. Robert Bourns made important points on the Law Society's work to promote solicitor judges, including the work of the division.

Last week the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill received Royal Assent and became law. Number 10 has indicated that the prime minister may trigger Article 50 next week.

This week in Parliament

Monday 20 March

House of Commons

  • Prisons and Courts Bill - second reading
  • European Scrutiny Committee - oral evidence session - EU-UK relations in preparation for Brexit
    o Sir Timothy Earle Barrow KCMG, LVO, MBE, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
    o Rt Hon David Jones MP, minister of state, Department for Exiting the EU

House of Lords

  • Oral questions - government's programme for negotiating the UK's exit from the EU

Tuesday 21 March

House of Commons

  • Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill [HL] - report stage and third reading

Wednesday 22 March

House of Commons

  • 10-minute rule motion - terms of withdrawal from the European Union (referendum)
  • Debate - exiting the European Union and global trade

House of Lords

  • Constitution Committee: oral evidence session - lord chief justice
    o The Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, lord chief justice of England and Wales

Thursday 23 March

Nothing to report.

Friday 24 March

House of Commons

  • Consideration of Private Members' Bills

Last Week in Parliament

Monday 13 March

House of Commons

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill completed ping pong stage. The two Lords' amendments on a final vote for parliament and guaranteeing rights for EU citizens were both rejected by the House of Commons, so the bill had finished its passage through both houses with no changes.

Tuesday 14 March


The prime minister gave a statement to the House of Commons on the recent European Council meeting. EU heads of state discussed several issues including the challenge of managing mass migration, the threats from organised crime and instability in the Western Balkans, and the measures needed to boost Europe’s growth and competitiveness. She said that Britain would continue to play a leading role in Europe, even when the UK had left the European Union.

House of Commons

The Exiting the EU Select Committee heard evidence from mayor of London Sadiq Khan on the implications for London of the UK's withdrawal from the EU. The key points of the session were:

Transitional arrangements

  • Khan repeatedly stressed the need for a transitional deal to cover the period after the two-year Article 50 process in the event of a new agreement not being reached by that time. He argued that this was a key concern of businesses, which would provide them with certainty and clarity.
  • Khan argued that falling back on a situation of having non-tariff barriers to the sale of services would be 'a catastrophe'.
  • Not reaching a deal would cause financial institutions currently lacking a presence in another EU cities to begin planning to leave the UK given the longer lead time for this process.

Financial passporting

  • Khan cited the continuation of passporting rights as one of the key aims of the financial services sector in the government's forthcoming negotiations with the EU. He also detailed the importance of the sector for employment, particularly given the City of London's status as the capital of euro clearing.
  • Stephen Timms MP (Lab) asked whether he had given up on the prospect of maintaining passporting or still believed it to be possible. Khan noted that it was up for negotiation and that there may be a quid pro quo, but argued that the government should try to maintain it.

Relocation of banks

  • Khan repeatedly said that financial institutions relocating out of the UK would move to Hong Kong, Singapore or New York rather than to any European financial centre, due to the importance of being in a truly global financial centre that can appeal to all institutions.
  • Sammy Wilson MP (DUP) asked why banks and financial services companies would move to Hong Kong and New York, as these places would have the same difficulties in accessing the EU market than London. Khan said that Brexit may allow consolidation, be it in the back office, clearing, or other operations.
  • He said that the reality was that no one city in the EU provided the benefits that London did, and that his job was to persuade institutions to stay in London.

Financial deregulation

  • Michael Gove MP (Con) asked Khan about the potential benefits of changing a number of financial directives after Brexit. In particular, they had been criticised for going beyond international standards, being excessively regulatory, and reducing consumer choice and market dynamism. Khan said that he was not an expert, but part of the way the UK did business with the EU was through minimum standards of regulation.
  • Gove asked if Khan should appoint someone, possibly his Expert Advisory Group, to look at the potential deregulatory benefits of leaving the EU. Khan said that the experts he talked to also met HM Treasury and the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU) to discuss such opportunities.

EU migration

  • Khan said that he would like the prime minister to give a 'cast iron guarantee' to EU citizens currently in the UK on the day of triggering Article 50. He said this would show an act of good faith in the negotiations and avoid a potentially disastrous exodus of staff and jobs from London.
  • He added that London needed both high-skilled and low-skilled workers, and that it also had a responsibility to train up young British people.

Wednesday 15 March

House of Commons

Secretary of state for Exiting the EU David Davis MP, and permanent secretary Olly Robbins, gave evidence to the Exiting the EU Select Committee. The key points from the session were:

European Court of Justice

  • Davis rejected the idea that the UK was 'allergic' to the European Court of Justice. He noted that the UK must design a mechanism that was appropriate, and may need to design one for trade that would be different to one for justice and home affairs. He noted exploratory work in that area had already begun.

Transitional arrangements

  • Davis noted that many banking and financial services structures wanted to have time between the point at which the outcome of the negotiations was and the point at which that outcome took effect, so that they could undertake planning 'on facts and not fears'.
  • Davis stressed that this process was a negotiation which had not yet even started. He noted that around Europe there was understanding that we would need some time to 'put into effect whatever we agree'.

Financial services

  • Davis said financial services firms were poised to lose passporting rights if the UK failed to agree to a deal with the EU.
  • Davis later told MPs that Michel Barnier, the European chief negotiator for Brexit, was aware that coming to an agreement over financial services was critical.

Great Repeal Bill

  • Davis said that the white paper on the Great Repeal Bill would be published in the near future and the government was waiting for the situation in Northern Ireland to be resolved before publishing it. Davis noted that there would be a 'phase two' after the Great Repeal Bill and there would be a number of major bills to deal with substantive matters beyond the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 and the translation of the EU acquis into UK law.

Economic assessment on impact of Brexit

  • Davis pointed out that the government had undertaken no economic assessment of the impact of leaving the EU with no deal and that no such assessment would be carried out at all.

Defaulting to WTO rules

  • Asked if MPs and peers would get a vote before the country defaults to WTO rules, Davis said the government would make a statement to parliament.
  • On the impact of failing to secure a deal, Davis said government departments were in the process of doing their own review of the costs of failing to agree a deal. Davis said British businesses would face tariffs and non-tariff barriers if no deal could be agreed.


  • Davis said that the government's new immigration policy would be about control, but 'it won't be done in a way that damages the economy'. He noted the issue would be of principle, not numbers.

Data adequacy requirements and data sharing

  • Davis said one of the strategies he was arguing for inside the government was making sure that the sector was extra robust against the challenge on safe harbour status against the US, which would arise when the UK was outside the EU.
  • Hilary Benn MP (Lab) asked if Davis was confident the UK would still have access to data sharing arrangements after Brexit in the areas of justice and home affairs. Davis agreed it was very much the government’s intention, but did not expect the UK would face anything but supportive responses from the EU.

House of Lords

Law Society president Robert Bourns gave evidence to the House of Lords Constitution Committee inquiry on Judicial Diversity. The session focused on the current application process and the barriers it presents to solicitors and applicants from under-represented groups in the judiciary. It also highlighted the Law Society's work to support applicants to the judiciary, particularly solicitors from under-represented groups.

In a speech to the City of London Solicitors’ Company, the lord chief justice praised the president of the Law Society who agreed to work with him to foster a culture of seeking judicial appointment among solicitors.

Thursday 16 March


The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act has received Royal Assent, giving the prime minister the legal power to trigger Article 50. Number 10 has suggested that she is to trigger it on the week commencing 27 March, although this has not been confirmed.

Friday 17 March

Houses not sitting.

Tags: European Union | access to justice | Brexit | diversity and inclusion

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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