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Article 50 likely to be triggered this week

13 March 2017

The prime minister is expected to trigger Article 50 by her 31 March deadline.

Brexit continues to lead the debate in parliament this week.

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is back to the House of the Commons which will consider Lords amendments. The bill was amended by peers who introduced two significant changes:

  • A requirement that the government brings forward proposals to ensure the rights of EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit within three months of triggering Article 50.
  • A requirement that parliament has a 'meaningful vote' on the final Brexit deal.

If MPs do not agree with the amendments, the bill will return to the House of Lords for further consideration. It is thought that peers will relent and accept the view of the House of Commons as the elected chamber, should the bill continue to move between the two houses. The prime minister is still expected to trigger Article 50 within her 31st March deadline, likely after the Dutch elections on 16-17 March or during the week commencing 27 March.

On Wednesday the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal and Constitutional Affairs (secretariat provided by the Law Society and the Bar Council) will host an event in parliament on the impact of Brexit on consumers and small businesses. David Greene, chair of the Law Society Legal Affairs and Policy Board, will speak alongside Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, shadow solicitor general, Caroline Normand, director of policy at Which? and Hugh Mercer QC, chair of the Bar Council Brexit Working Group.
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Last week the International Trade Select Committee published its report on UK Trade Options Beyond 2019, to which we gave oral evidence in February. The report includes a section on trade in services and legal services and the Law Society is quoted extensively. In particular, the Law Society's position is mentioned in relation to the status of the single market in services, impact of barriers to trade in legal services, and re-joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

The chancellor of the exchequer presented the spring budget to the House of Commons. Our detailed analysis is outlined below and you can read our press release. Oral justice questions also took place and whiplash compensation reform, the personal injury discount rate, pro bono, and human rights were discussed.

This week in parliament

Monday 13 March

House of Commons

  • European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Consideration of Lords amendments (day 1)
  • Defence oral questions

Tuesday 14 March

House of Commons

  • European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) - Consideration of Lords amendments (day 2) (if necessary)
  • Exiting the European Union Committee - Oral evidence session - The UK’s negotiating objectives for its withdrawal from the EU
    • Rt Hon Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Wednesday 15 March

House of Commons

  • European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) – Consideration of Lords amendments (day 3) (if necessary)
  • Exiting the European Union Committee - Oral evidence session - The UK’s negotiating objectives for its withdrawal from the EU
    • Rt Hon David Davis MP, secretary of state for the Department for Exiting the European Union
    • Ollie Robbins, permanent secretary, Department for Exiting the EU
  • Justice Select Committee - Oral evidence session - Disclosure of youth criminal records
    • Christopher Stacey, co-director, Unlock
    • Ali Wigzell, chair, Standing Committee on Youth Justice
    • Dr Phillip Lee, parliamentary under-secretary of state, Ministry of Justice
  • All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal and Constitutional Affairs - What will Brexit mean for consumers and small businesses?
    Book your place  

House of Lords

  • Constitution Committee - Oral evidence session - Judicial appointments follow-up
    • Robert Bourns, President of the Law Society
  • EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee - Oral evidence session - The EU Data Protection Package
    • Mr Antony Walker, Deputy CEO, techUK
      Ms Ruth Boardman, Co-head of International Data Protection Practice , Bird and Bird

Thursday 16 March

House of Commons

  • Oral attorney general questions

Friday 17 March

Houses not sitting.

Last week in parliament

Monday 6 March

House of Lords

European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Report Stage

Lords oral question on solicitor qualification

Lord Low of Dalston (Crossbench) tabled an oral question on the proposals by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to reform the qualifications for admission to the profession. We briefed peers ahead of the debate.

The Law Society was specifically mentioned by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (Lib Dem) who noted a 'turf war' between the SRA and us. He stated that he could see the case for separation between the two organisations, with the SRA as regulator and TLS as governing the profession. He also suggested that there may be a case for a single legal services regulator, noting that the SRA wanted to control entry into profession whilst the Law Society’s concern was not to lower those standards.

The session also covered the following issues:

Independence of the profession

  • Lord Keen noted that government had not an assessment of the proposals as it was independent from the legal profession and bodies that regulate it. He said that under the Legal Services Act 2007, the Legal Services Board (LSB) would be the body to approve these proposals if the SRA was willing to go forth with them.

Role of the LSB

  • Baroness Deech (Crossbench) noted that barristers were upgrading qualifications whilst solicitors were going in other direction. She added that the LSB seemed to have failed in the last ten years to produce any of the reforms or improvements promised.
  • In response Lord Keen said that the government had no plans for a further review at this time.

Narrowing of the legal curriculum

  • Lord Low highlighted "widespread concern" that universities would be forced to teach the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) to remain competitive and that this could constrain the breadth of the academic legal profession. Lord Blunkett (Lab) also raised concerns about the narrowing of the curriculum excluding family law, disability law and social welfare law.
  • Lord Keen said that he did not think the reforms would have this effect on universities' law schools. He noted that currently there was no consistency as there were 110 institutions offering qualifying law degrees, 40 offering Graduate Diploma in Law and 26 offering the Legal Practice Course.
  • He also pointed out that people did not take degrees for sole purpose of a professional qualification but they did it to broaden understanding and extend education.

Pro bono advice

  • Lord Beecham (Lab) asked whether the SQE could include pro bono advice due to cuts in legal aid, the increases in courts and tribunal fees, and growth in litigants in person. Lord Keen noted that was a question for the SRA and LSB. He said that both bodies tried to pursue their statutory obligations which included a requirement to have regard to the demands on the profession.

Read the transcript of the session

Tuesday 7 March

House of Commons

Oral justice questions

Oral justice questions took place. Several issues were discussed, including whiplash compensation reform, the personal injury discount rate, pro bono, and human rights. The main points raised were as follows:

Discount rate

  • The lord chancellor said that she was obliged by the law to set the rate at a level reflecting realistic returns, and that the law required she only consider the impact on the victim. She said that the system needed to be reformed and the rate should not be set on an ad hoc basis. She reiterated that a consultation would be published shortly on reforming the way in which the discount rate was set.

Whiplash and small claims

  • The lord chancellor said that the whiplash reforms should bring insurance premiums down by £40.
  • Courts and Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald QC MP said that measures to disincentives fraudulent claims were included in the Courts and Prisons Bill, as well as measures to reduce the cost of litigation. He did not address the question of what steps the government would take to ensure that savings were passed on to consumers.
  • Ruth Cadbury MP called on Sir Oliver to exclude vulnerable road users, including cyclists and pedestrians, from the change in the small claims limit. Sir Oliver said that the government had taken account of the responses from cyclists and pedestrians and had taken forward measures, or not, accordingly.
  • David Nuttall MP asked about the effect of the reforms on the number of litigants in person. Sir Oliver said that court reform was designed to improve access for litigants in person.
  • Shadow lord chancellor Richard Burgon MP pointed out that if the government's intent was to target whiplash, it should focus on that rather than on increasing the limit for work-place and other injuries.
  • Kate Green MP asked why the government was not tackling claims management companies instead. Sir Oliver said that it was important to do both, and that the package would do this.

Pro Bono

  • Sir Oliver said the government was seeking to make the justice system more accessible and there would soon be a green paper on pro bono, public legal education, and legal support.
  • He said that the justice system was being changed to make sure the system was easier to navigate and that people needed less legal support.

Court reporting

  • John Whittingdale MP asked about the standard of local court reporting highlighting that justice "did not just need to be done, but needed to be seen to be done". Sir Oliver agreed and said that, under their proposals, the MoJ would publish lists and outcomes of local cases, and that virtual hearings would be available online.

Court reform

  • Sir Oliver said that the government was investing £10bn in "taking paper out of the courts".
  • On protecting vulnerable users such as victims of abuse, Sir Oliver said that the government would continue to use physical measures and would maximise use of video links and pre-recorded evidence to avoid them coming face to face with their abusers.
  • He also highlighted the reforms in the family courts to prevent cross examination by abusers contained in the Prisons and Courts Bill.

Judicial diversity

  • Lucy Frazer MP asked a question about judicial diversity. The lord chancellor said that it was important that highly qualified solicitors could access the bench, and that Lord Kakkar, the Chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission, was looking at this.

Read the session in full

International trade select committee report on UK Trade Options Beyond 2019 published

The International Trade Select Committee published its report on UK Trade Options Beyond 2019. We submitted written evidence to the committee and gave oral evidence on 24 February. The report includes a section on trade in services and legal services and the Law Society is quoted extensively. In particular, the Law Society's position is mentioned in relation to the status of the single market in services, impact of barriers to trade in legal services, and re-joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

More broadly the report makes the following recommendations:

Word Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations

  • The government should consider that negotiations concerning the establishment of the UK’s position at the WTO are appropriately sequenced with those concerning a UK-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
  • The government should set out the likely consequences of trading under WTO rules alone as clearly as possible.

Sequencing of negotiations

  • The government must initiate negotiations for an EU-UK FTA, including customs arrangements and a phased process of implementation, in parallel to the Article 50 negotiations. It should identify and address the legal implications of doing so.

Trade in services

  • In respect of trade in services in general, a UK-EU FTA should seek as far as possible to reproduce the right of establishment and mutual recognition of professional qualifications from which the UK currently benefits as a member of the EU.

Dispute resolution mechanism

  • The government should be clearer about the design principles for the dispute-resolution mechanism it will seek as part of a UK-EU FTA.

European Free Trade Association

  • The government should evaluate the implications of the UK re-joining the EFTA, which they suggest would offer an opportunity for a smoother transition as the UK exits the EU in 2019.

Strategy for trade negotiations

  • The Department for International Trade should publish a broad strategy document on negotiating FTAs, describing and justifying the outlines of its approach.

Read the full report

Defence Select Committee inquiry into fatalities involving British military personnel

The Defence Select Committee held an evidence session as part of its inquiry into how incidents involving British military personnel that result in fatalities should be investigated. The focus of the session was the re-opening of inquiries which have been closed, even if there was no new evidence. The committee is looking at what options the government has to prevent soldiers being subject to harassment.

Read the session

House of Lords

European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Report Stage

The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill passed through Report Stage and Third Reading in the Lords and will return to the House of Commons for consideration of the Lords amendments this week.

Through a Labour led amendment, peers voted to amend, 366 votes to 268, to give a parliament a "meaningful vote" on the final Brexit deal. This means the bill leaves the House of Lords with the following amendments:

  • A requirement that the government brings forward proposals to ensure the rights of EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit within three months of triggering Article 50.
  • A requirement that parliament has a 'meaningful vote' on the final Brexit deal.

It is thought that the Commons will reject the Lords amendments. Should this happen the bill will then return to the Lords with reasons as to why the Commons disagree with the amendments, and/or with further amendments

Wednesday 8 March

Government - spring budget

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond MP, delivered the Spring Budget. As expected, it contained relatively low-key measures. However, his decision to increase National Insurance bills for self-employed people has lead to accusations he has broken a manifesto pledge not to raise taxes. The main measures that are relevant to the legal sector are as follows:


  • The government will introduce new financial penalties for those who enable tax avoidance from July.
  • New legislation will ensure that promoters of tax avoidance schemes cannot circumvent the Promoters of Tax Avoidance Schemes (POTAS) regime by re-organising their business by either sharing control of a promoting business, or putting a person or persons between themselves and the promoting business.
  • The main rate of Class 4 National Insurance contributions will increase from 9% to 10% in April 2018 and to 11% in April 2019 to reduce the gap in rates paid by the self-employed and employees.
  • Business rates

    • The government will revaluate business rates by providing:
      • £435m for firms affected by increases in business rates
      • £300m hardship fund for small businesses worst affected
    • The government will remove the ability for businesses to convert capital losses into trading losses from 8 March 2017.

    Tech sector

    • The government committed to £270m to put the UK 'at the forefront' of disruptive technologies including robotics, biotech and driverless vehicle systems.
    • £16m were allocated to create a 5G hub to trial the forthcoming mobile data technology.
    • Funds were created for 1,000 new PhD and fellowship positions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

    Competition and consumer markets

    • The government will bring forward a consumers and markets green paper to examine markets that are not working efficiently or fairly.

    Read our press release

    Thursday 8 March

    House of Commons

    Exiting the EU oral questions

    During the Exiting the EU oral questions, the Chair of the Justice Select Committee Bob Neill MP noted the importance of the legal services sector to the economy and that a good percentage of that comes from legal services provided into the EU. He asked the secretary of state, David Davis MP, whether he will meet with the Bar Council and Law Society to discuss what they needed to continue to have access to a key market.

    In response, David Davis MP said that his department had met them and will arrange another meeting soon. He noted that the legal services sector was a "very, very important sector" and that the general services sector was as big as the City.

    The other points from Exiting the EU oral questions were:

    Transitional arrangements

    • Davis stated that the UK wanted to reach an agreement on its future partnership within two years in accordance to Article 50.
    • He noted that a cliff edge for businesses or threat to stability was not good for either the UK or the EU and that a phased process of implementation was likely to be of mutual interest.
    • He pointed out that transitional arrangements would have to be part of an early discussion but what they look like would depend on the final agreement. He noted that in some areas the free trade agreement would remove the need for transitional arrangements, although this may not be the case for highly regulated sectors such as data and aviation.
    • He also highlighted customs and financial services as areas where implementation may take longer even if a deal was reached in two years.

    Data protection

    • Davis stated that he understood the importance of an agreement on international data flow for a number of sectors. He noted that the UK would be at an advantage to other agreements on data flow as it started at a point of identity. He said that the UK would need to agree a regime whereby equivalence was maintained rather than identity.

    EU citizens

    • Davis reiterated the government’s line that he had been speaking to other EU countries about securing rights for UK citizens abroad and EU citizens in the UK, and that they were all committed to establishing an agreement on this as early as possible after Article 50 was triggered.

    Vote on the final deal in parliament

    • In response to a question about why the government would not support the Lords amendment on a final vote for the UK parliament before, he only noted that the amendment was "unnecessary".

    European response to the Brexit white paper

    • Davis stated that EU member states had been positive and supportive of the government’s general approach in the Brexit white paper.

    View the transcript

    Friday 9 March

    Nothing to report

    Tags: Theresa May | Westminster weekly update | European Union | Parliament

    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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