Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.
One thing you need to do
We've launched a new petition calling on the government to increase investment in the criminal justice system.
Five things you need to know
1. Committee publishes report on leasehold reform
Last Tuesday the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee published the report from its inquiry into leasehold reform. The report made a number of recommendations to the government, including banning the sale of new build houses as leaseholds, encouraging the use of commonhold for flats, and requiring developers and estate agents to provide key sales information to potential purchasers at the beginning of the process. The latter was a key call made by the Law Society in its written and oral evidence to the inquiry.
The report also probed the role of conveyancing solicitors that had been recommended to clients by developers. The report alleged that 'some conveyancing solicitors have become too close to developers and did not put their clients' interests first'. It recommends that the government ban the practice of offering financial incentives to a buyer to use a particular conveyancing solicitor.
The government will now consider the report's recommendations, and will likely respond within the next two months. The government has already committed to a number of reforms including banning the sale of new leasehold houses and restricting ground rents in future leases to £10. They recently ran a consultation on the implementation of these proposed reforms, which is still awaiting a formal response.
2. PM secures short Article 50 extension
Last Wednesday the prime minister wrote to European Council president Donald Tusk, requesting an extension of the 29 March Brexit deadline mandated by Article 50 to 30 June. The European Council convened yesterday, and agreed to an extension significantly shorter than May's proposal, to 12 April.
However, the Council has stated that if the prime minister can pass the withdrawal agreement in a third meaningful vote next week, then a second technical extension will be granted until 22 May to allow for necessary legislation to be passed. If parliament rejects the withdrawal agreement again, it will have until 12 April to consider different exit options identified by the Council, which consist of:
- A longer extension to the Article 50 period, which would necessitate UK participation in the European Parliament elections in May;
- Revocation of Article 50;
- Accepting the withdrawal agreement before the 12 April deadline; and
- Exiting the EU without a deal on 12 April.
3. Constitution Committee questions Supreme Court
Last Wednesday the president and deputy president of the Supreme Court gave evidence to the House of Lords Constitution Committee.
During the session Baroness Hale of Richmond, the president of the Supreme Court, argued that having a more gender balanced Supreme Court would improve the quality of decision making, and argued that more could be done to attract talented lawyers into judicial roles.
Lord Reed, the deputy president of the Supreme Court, spoke on legal certainty after Brexit. He noted leaving the EU will result in increased legal complexity and that this will be challenging for practitioners. He identified three different types of EU law which could be considered: retained EU law created by the Withdrawal Act; Withdrawal Agreement law comprising of the agreement itself and the parts of EU law it references; and ordinary EU law applying as foreign law in particular in relation to contracts or trademarks. He noted that there will be a 'colossal body of law' for lawyers to explore.
4. Brexit statutory instruments passed by parliament.
During the past fortnight several statutory instruments preparing for a no deal Brexit were debated in both Houses, with the Law Society mentioned eight times by parliamentarians. All have now successfully passed through both Houses.
Discussion of the Jurisdiction and Judgments (Family) (Amendment Etc.) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019 saw shadow justice minister Yasmin Qureshi say 'I place on record my thanks to family law lawyers and to the Law Society. We consulted the Law Society, and it indicated that it accepted the necessity for this statutory instrument.'
5. Ministers launch probe into use of algorithms in the justice system
Last Wednesday the government announced that the newly formed Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation would begin a project looking at potential bias in the use of algorithms across the crime and justice, financial services, recruitment and local government sectors. One of the focuses of the project will be potential racial bias in the justice system, for which the Centre will receive support from the Cabinet Office's Race Disparity Unit.
Elsewhere in the Commons, the Women and Equalities Select Committee will be taking evidence for their inquiry on enforcing the Equality Act - to which the Law Society previously presented oral evidence - and there will be a Westminster Hall debate on modern slavery and victim support.
In the Lords, several key statutory instruments preparing for a no deal scenario will be discussed, and the EU Justice Sub-Committee will take evidence in their inquiry on rights after Brexit.
If you made it this far
We have released a new piece of guidance on family law, helping firms and practitioners prepare for a no deal situation.
Question or comments? Contact the Public Affairs team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7320 5858.