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Westminster weekly update: Courts and Tribunals Bill progresses while meaningful vote postponed

17 December 2018

The Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill completed its passage through the House of Commons after concluding its remaining stages last week.

The Bill will return to the House of Lords for final consideration of amendments before moving on to Royal Assent.

Meanwhile, the ongoing Brexit negotiations and the position of the prime minister have dominated the news and Parliament in recent weeks. In the last ten days, the government has been found in contempt of Parliament, the meaningful vote was postponed and the prime minister survived a confidence vote within the Conservative Party.

This week, a statement is expected from the prime minister on progress of the negotiations.

The House of Commons will question the Lord Chancellor and his ministerial team at justice oral questions on Tuesday. Meanwhile the Justice Select Committee will hear evidence from Lisa Osofsky, the Director at the Serious Fraud Office.

The second day of Report Stage for the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill will be held on Monday in the House of Lords, where a Law Society-backed amendment which aims to ensure legal professional privilege will be debated.

The Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill will receive its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday having already completed its passage through the House of Lords. The Law Society has a number of concerns regarding the Bill which will remove vital existing safeguards for cared-for people. The Law Society will be briefing MPs ahead of the debate.

The government's plans to reform probate fees will also be debated in the House of Lords on Tuesday afternoon, and the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill is expected to complete its passage through Parliament on Wednesday.

This week in Parliament

Monday 17 December

House of Commons

  • Statement from the prime minister (expected to be on Brexit)
  • Adjournment debate on the criminal justice system and the death of Kayden Dunn (Ruth Smeeth MP)

House of Lords

  • Oral question on the publication of an Immigration White Paper prior to a debate on section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Lord Roberts of Llandudno)
  • Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill; Report Stage (day 2)

Tuesday 18 December

House of Commons

  • Justice oral questions
  • Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill; 2nd reading
  • Justice Select Committee oral evidence session with Lisa Osofsky, Director, Serious Fraud Office

House of Lords

  • Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018; Motions to approve or regret

Wednesday 19 December

House of Commons

  • Exiting the European Union Select Committee oral evidence session on the progress of the UK's negotiations on EU withdrawal
  • Women and Equalities Committee oral evidence session on the use of non-disclosure agreements in discrimination cases

House of Lords

  • Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill; Third Reading

Thursday 20 December

House of Commons

  • Women and Equalities oral questions

Last fortnight in Parliament

Monday 3 December

House of Commons

Home office oral questions

The Home Secretary and his ministerial team answered questions in the House of Commons on Monday 3 December. Read the full session. During the session:

  • Stephen Kerr MP (Conservative) asked what support is being provided to EU citizens applying to the EU settlement scheme.

  • In response, the Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes MP said that:
    • The Home Office is putting in place a range of support for EU citizens applying to the EU settlement scheme
    • There is £9 million of grant funding to charities and other organisations so that they may assist people, particularly those in vulnerable groups, through the process of applying for settled status in this country.
  • When asked about the planned changes to the immigration system, the Home Secretary, the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, said that the Immigration White Paper will be published 'shortly' and that regardless of whether there is a deal or no deal, the immigration system will be reformed.

House of Lords

Counter-terrorism and Border Security Bill; Report Stage

The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill received the first day of its Report Stage debate in the House of Lords. Read the full debate online.

The Law Society was mentioned five times during the debate:

  • Baroness Williams of Trafford, Minister of State for Countering Extremism, cited representations from the Law Society as one of the reasons for which the government brought forward amendments to address the detention powers under Schedule 3 to the Bill, as well as Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000.

  • Baroness Williams also referenced the oral evidence given by the Law Society to the Public Committee in the House of Commons, noting that the government's amendments would mirror the provisions in PACE Code H with regard to the detention of terrorist suspects as proposed by the Law Society.

  • Baroness Hamwee (Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson) used her speech to put on record comments from the Law Society's parliamentary briefing on the issue of legal professional privilege.

  • Baroness Williams noted that the government's amendments would remind detainees of their right to free legal advice from 'an approved duty solicitor who has met the standards and competence of the Law Society's criminal litigation accreditation scheme.'

  • Lord Rosser (Labour) also cited proposals for the creation of a panel of duty solicitors regulated by the Law Society and the SRA for use in border detentions.

The House of Lords also agreed to Government Amendment 29, supported by the Law Society, that would address our key concern by removing provisions in the Terrorism Act 2000 that allow examining officers to direct that a consultation with a solicitor take place in the sight and hearing of an officer.

Amendments 36 and 37, also supported by the Law Society and which would remove this same provision from the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, were not voted on yesterday, but will likely be agreed to when the Bill returns to the House on 17 December.

During the debate, the House discussed Amendment 29 – a government amendment that would amend Schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000 to remove the provision by which an officer can require that a consultation with a solicitor take place in the sight and hearing of a qualified officer, and add in a provision that would require a detainee to be made aware of their right to consult a solicitor from the beginning of a detention. The Law Society supported this amendment in its parliamentary briefing.

  • Introducing the amendment, Baroness Williams noted that it would address the concerns highlighted in the reports of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee, as well as representations from the Law Society and others.

  • She noted that Amendments 37 to 39, 41 and 42 would remove officers' powers to require that a consultation with a lawyer takes place in the sight and hearing of a qualified officer, instead allowing the officer to require the detainee to choose a different solicitor. The detainee would then be reminded of the right to free legal advice from 'an approved duty solicitor who has met the standards and competence of the Law Society's criminal litigation accreditation scheme.'

  • She stated that these amendments mirror the provisions in PACE Code H with regard to the detention of terrorist suspects as proposed by the Law Society in its evidence to the Public Bill Committee in the House of Commons.

  • She highlighted that the new power would be subject to safeguards, for example requiring the powers to be authorised by a superintendent, and only where there are reasonable grounds to believe that not using this power would have serious consequences.

  • She noted that Amendments 35, 36 and 40 would make it explicit in the primary legislation that a detainee has to be made aware of their right to access a lawyer at the moment of detention.

  • Baroness Hamwee stated that she supported the government's amendments.

  • She also took the opportunity to put on record comments taken from the Law Society's parliamentary briefing relating to the issue of legal professional privilege, including our comment that 'Legally privileged material should not be retained for any purpose other than a potentially urgent need to prevent death, injury or a hostile act'.

  • Baroness Hamwee also drew attention to the question our briefing raised as to who would be specifically responsible for making a determination as to whether a given article constituted legally privileged material, noting the Law Society's position that 'It is important that this determination is made by a legally qualified person who is capable of accurately assessing whether a given article is subject to legal professional privilege'.

  • In response, Baroness Williams stated that the Investigatory Powers Commissioner would be responsible for approving access to confidential material.

Amendment 29 was agreed.

The House did not have time to consider Amendments 36 and 37 before it adjourned; the House will return for Day 2 of Report Stage on 17 December.

Tuesday 4 December

House of Commons

Government found in contempt of Parliament

The House of Commons voted in favour of a motion that has found the government in contempt of Parliament, due to their failure to publish the Attorney General's full legal advice on the Northern Irish backstop.

Following the result of the vote, Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom MP stated that the government will publish the full legal advice that the Attorney General provided to government Ministers on the revocability of the Northern Irish backstop.

However, the government stated that, due to its constitutional importance, it will refer the matter to the Commons Privileges Committee to consider the precedence of the Commons vote.

Debate on Theresa May's Brexit deal

Debate on Theresa May's Brexit deal took place from Tuesday 4 December until Thursday 6 December. The deal was expected to be put to a vote in Parliament on 11 December, but was withdrawn on Monday 10 December in anticipation of an expected defeat. The debate that took place on the deal is detailed below.

Day 1: You can read the full day 1 Brexit debate here.

The prime minister, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, emphasised the need for compromise, arguing that her deal respects the result of the referendum and is a midpoint between those that want a closer relationship with the EU and those that would prefer a more distant relationship. She also appealed to colleagues to work to bring the country back together and emphasised the difficult nature of negotiations, saying that she had achieved the deal through 'painstaking hard work', that there was a 'rigorous fight' and that if colleagues wanted to reopen negotiations, 'it would not simply be a question of what the UK wanted to change'.

After eight hours of contributions, new Brexit Secretary Rt Hon Stephen Barclay MP closed the debate for the government. He reiterated the prime minister's key point that while the deal may not be perfect, it is a good deal and is the only deal on the table. He argued against the alternatives MPs raised during the debate - such as EEA membership and the 'Canada option' - saying that rejecting the PM's deal would create 'even more uncertainty' when MPs owe constituents 'clarity and conviction'.

Speaking on behalf of the DUP, Nigel Dodds MP said he was happy to put the views of Northern Ireland to the test at any time, saying the party is happy to go to the electorate and is confident they would be 'returned in greater numbers than [they] are today'. He reiterated the DUP's concerns over the Irish backstop, saying the need for an insurance policy is 'nonsense' and criticising the government for going back on its previous assurances.

Day 2: You can read the full day 2 Brexit debate here.

The Home Secretary, the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP opened the second day of debate on the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the Future Relationship.

Javid opened with a stark warning to colleagues that a no-deal Brexit would mean an immediate and probably indefinite loss of some security capability and that there would be implications for the UK's law enforcement agencies and border guards. He concluded there would be inevitable disruption and these agencies would have less information available to do their jobs. Although he recognised comprises have been made with Brussels, he argued the prime minister's deal was better than an 'unplanned' no-deal Brexit and 'strikes the right balance' on security. He also reiterated that immigration was a key factor in how people voted in the 2016 referendum and the PM's deal will allow the UK to create an immigration system not constrained by EU laws.

Responding on behalf of the opposition was Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott MP who argued that the PM's deal was 'almost as bad' as no-deal for security as it is a 'blindfold Brexit'.

After eight hours of contributions, the Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP closed the debate for the government. He stated that however important Brexit may be, it does not change the fact that no European country 'has done more for the defence and security of Europe' than Britain and echoed Javid's sentiments that this partnership predates the UK's membership of the EU. Hunt emphasised that Britain will be given unprecedented scope to co-operate with the EU on issues such as terrorism and organised crime as the UK regains parliamentary control of its immigration policy. He concluded the risks of a no-deal situation would place the UK's common security at risk 'in a way that would be wholly unnecessary'.

Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill; Committee Stage

The Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill had its Committee Stage in the House of Commons.

There were 6 votes on amendments called by the Opposition during the stage. All were defeated, including the amendments that we had drafted on minimum qualification levels. Initially tabled in the Lords, these amendments were re-tabled for the Commons. The outcome of each amendment is detailed in the table at the end of this email.

The full transcript of the debate can be found here, and is summarised below. During the debate:

Deployment of judges

  • Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lucy Frazer QC MP argued tat a key element of the court reforms is to ensure that we have a justice system that works for everyone, and that includes making the best use of our judges' 'experience, expertise and time'. Clause 1 of the Bill would increase the flexibility of the judiciary to deploy judges where they are needed.

  • Shadow Justice Minister Yasmin Qureshi MP accepted that there are practical arguments for expanding the flexibility of our judges. She raised concerns with what training provisions would be made available for judges working in different areas of law. They asked for assurances that the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor will make proper financial provision for those judges to update their skills and to receive professional training when they go into a different area of judicial function.

  • Frazer responded by giving the assurance that 'where judges are asked to sit in a new jurisdiction, further induction will be provided in line with the directions of the senior judiciary. The Judicial College is in charge of training, and it will continue to train our judges.'

Statutory instruments

  • Qureshi argued that the Bill does not talk about who judicial functions should be delegated to, 'what their qualifications are, what they will do or what subjects and issues they can deal with.' She argued that it should not be the Procedures Committee taking these decisions but rather these issues should be determined by Parliament through statutory instruments.

  • Frazer provided some reassurance by confirming that the power under clause 3(2) of the Bill does not permit the delegation of judicial functions to authorised persons. Rather, the power in the clause is needed because the procedure rules cannot be used to make all the necessary amendments to other secondary legislation. She went on to argue that the 'power is needed principally to amend references in secondary legislation from 'justices' clerk', a post abolished by the Bill, to 'authorised officer'. So far, we have identified more than 200 references in more than 60 pieces of secondary legislation that would need amendment, and there may be more.' She gave a commitment that the power would not be used to amend primary legislation.

Minimum qualifications

  • Qureshi argued that there must be minimum qualification levels set to ensure that judicial functions are carried out by appropriate persons. She said that more and more people are representing themselves in court because of cuts to legal aid, and argued that they may not be able to identify where mistakes are being made in procedure and processes to do with their case. She argued that 'Qualified barristers, solicitors and lawyers, even when they work in the courts system, have an appropriate professional body with codes of conduct they have to abide by. If they do not abide by those codes of conduct, they could be struck off from their practice. However, if the people who carry out the work are not legally qualified, such as administrative staff or clerical officers, they will not have to think about their independent professional bodies.' She shared her respect for the judiciary, but noted that financial constraints and pressures can impact upon justice.

  • In response, Frazer noted that the staff that currently provide legal advice in the magistrates' courts and the family courts are justices' clerks and assistant clerks. She argued that 'to be an assistant clerk at the moment one must be a barrister in England and Wales or a solicitor of the senior courts of England and Wales, have passed the necessary exams for either of those professions, or have qualified as a legal adviser under historical rules that were in place prior to 1999. Those requirements are set out in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor, and have been since 1979. We propose no lessening of this bar, and no substantive change to the approach for determining qualifications. Under the Bill, the qualifications required for staff to be authorised to provide legal advice to magistrates and family court judges will therefore continue to be specified by the Lord Chancellor in regulations, which must now be made with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.' She argued that the Bill allows the relevant procedure committees to set the requirements relating to the necessary qualification or experience of these staff in future, depending on the functions they permit staff to carry out. She argued that 'it is simply not necessary for all authorised staff exercising judicial functions to possess legal qualifications… legal qualifications of the level that would be required by amendment 5 not only are far too high for the routine and straightforward case preparation tasks that we anticipate many authorised staff may carry out, but may not be the most relevant qualifications for staff in different jurisdictions.'

Judicial reconsideration

  • Qureshi argued that there should be a right to a statutory reconsideration to safeguard claimants who do not accept a decision made by authorised persons.

  • Frazer accepted that it might be appropriate for there to be reconsideration of decisions, but the government believe that the independent procedure rule committees are best placed to decide if such a right is needed. She said that the proposed amendment would not work in practice.

Results key:

Agreed to: agreed without a vote
Agreed to on division: Agreed following a vote.
Negatived: Rejected with a vote
Negatived on division: rejected following a vote
Not called: Debated in a group of amendments but not put to a decision
Not moved: Not debated of put to a decision
Not selected: Not chosen for debate by the chair
Withdrawn after debate: moved and debated but then withdrawn and not put to a decision

No. Moved by Explanation Result
2 Opposition This amendment would require that where statutory instruments delegating judicial functions to authorised persons are brought they would be subject to the affirmative procedure. Negatived on division
3 Opposition Amendments 3-5 would stipulate that the minimum legal qualifications for authorised persons should be three years' experience post-qualification. Negatived on division
4 Opposition In line with Amendment 3. This amendment would also stipulate that the minimum legal qualifications for authorised persons should be three years' experience post-qualification. Not called
5 Opposition In line with Amendment 3. This amendment would also stipulate that the minimum legal qualifications for authorised persons should be three years' experience post-qualification. Not called
6 Opposition This amendment would grant people subject to a decision made under delegated powers to a statutory right to judicial reconsideration. Negatived on division
7 Opposition This amendment would require the Tribunal Procedure Rules to set out a procedure for applying for judicial reconsideration. It is consequential on Amendment 6. Negatived on division
8 Opposition This amendment would require any Procedure Rules Committee making rules about the functions to which a reconsideration right would apply to consider whether the substantive rights of the parties will be materially affected. Negatived on division
9 Opposition This amendment would require any Procedure Rules Committee making rules about the functions to which a reconsideration right would apply to consider whether the substantive rights of the parties will be materially affected. Not called
1 Government This is a procedural amendment. The amendment would remove the privilege amendment inserted by the Lords. Agreed to
NC1 Opposition This amendment would require the impact of the delegation of judicial functions to be reviewed within three years of it coming into force. Negatived on division

Monday 10 December

House of Commons

Delay to meaningful vote

In a statement to the House of Commons, the prime minister sought to delay the meaningful vote on the Brexit deal that was originally due to take place on 11 December.

This is so she can seek 'further assurances' on the Irish backstop. Mrs May said proponents of alternative options to her deal (a second referendum, Norway plus and No Deal) had to be honest with the public about the implications of their proposals and said that she believed no majority existed for those options at this time.

The Speaker told Parliament after the PM's statement that halting the debate at this stage was 'discourteous'.

HCLG Committee oral evidence session with former Law Society president Jonathan Smithers

Jonathan Smithers gave evidence on behalf of the Law Society to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee's inquiry on leasehold reform. The full session can be watched online here. The evidence session consisted of three panels, and heard evidence from the following witnesses:

Panel 1:

  • Gillian Boyle, Strategic Development Directorate, Manchester City Council
  • Larissa Reed, Executive Director for Neighbourhoods Communities & Housing, Brighton and Hove City Council
  • Amy Simmons, Head of Policy, National Housing Federation

Panel 2:

  • Anthony Essien, Chief Executive, Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE)

Panel 3:

  • Jonathan Smithers, Former President, Law Society of England and Wales
  • Beth Rudolph, Director of Delivery, Conveyancing Association

Below is a summary of the key points raised during panel 3, along with some relevant points from panel 2.

Independence of solicitors

  • Liz Twist MP (Labour) asked whether solicitors can offer truly independent advice to their client if they are reliant on referrals from developers who are providing discounts and incentives to consumers for the use of panel solicitors.
    • Beth Rudolph stated that the regulations governing conveyancers are clear in that they cannot accept referrals if they believe it would affect their independence or create a conflict of interest.
    • Jonathan Smithers stated that it is perfectly possible for a solicitor to have a commercial relationship and still be independent. He said transparency was key to allow the consumer to make an informed decision.
  • Liz Twist MP asked about evidence received from leaseholders who claimed they were pushed into using a particular solicitor, and that they subsequently were not fully informed about the implications of onerous lease terms.
    • Beth Rudolph noted that by the time a buyer receives information from a solicitor they are not in a position to fully absorb this information as they will have already fallen in love with the property and made an emotional commitment to the purchase (and indeed in some cases a financial commitment as well). She stated that the onus must be on estate agents to provide information about lease terms at the first point of contact.
    • Jonathan Smithers pointed out that it was important to distinguish between cases of buyer's remorse and cases in which buyers were not properly advised. He stated from his own experience that it is often difficult for a solicitor to judge how much information a client can absorb, and what needs to be made clear to them. He stated that it was not the solicitor's job to advise a client not to make a purchase, but simply to point out the details and implications.
  • Liz Twist MP asked whether it was the role of the solicitor to highlight potentially onerous lease terms.
    • Jonathan Smithers stated that solicitors do have a responsibility to clarify these terms, but that it is difficult to do when a buyer has not been given this information up front. He also noted there was a lack of awareness about the relationship between ground rent and the premium – the higher the ground rent the lower the initial premium should be.
  • Liz Twist MP asked whether developers should be prohibited from recommending specific solicitors to buyers.
    • Jonathan Smithers stated that this would be problematic as it is often helpful for buyers to be advised by solicitors with an in-depth knowledge of a development, and with the time to go through the details of the lease. He also noted that existing arrangements help to reduce costs for the consumer as solicitors who already know the development will not have to spend as much time examining the details of the development.
    • Beth Rudolph noted that a situation in which a buyer is forced to use a specific solicitor is not right, and that there are regulations that address this. She suggested that the Committee may want to interview estate agents and lenders on the question of referral fees.
  • Liz Twist MP asked whether it was ethical for referral fees to be paid by solicitors, and whether they should therefore be banned.
    • Beth Rudolph stated that they are ethical, so long as the fees paid are reasonable.
    • Jonathan Smithers said that some people would agree that referral fees should be banned, but others would say that the market should allow reasonable referral fees. He accepted however that the payment of referral fees creates a negative perception that might not necessarily be entirely justified.
  • Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP (Labour) asked whether the use of incentives and threats by developers to encourage buyers to instruct their recommended solicitor was morally wrong.
    • Beth Rudolph said this was wrong, and that if a conveyancer was aware of such practices taking place they should refuse the instruction. She also stated that there should be a cap on lease permission fees. She emphasised that onerous terms do not appear in leases by accident; they are put in there by the developers.
    • Jonathan Smithers stated that there were two separate issues here: allegations of negligence, and the use of incentives. He highlighted the imbalance of power between the buyer and seller which comes from the nature of supply and demand in the market. He noted that arrangements between developers and solicitors can benefit the consumer, but appreciated that there is a perception problem amongst consumers.
  • Clive Betts MP (Chair, Labour) asked what a reasonable referral fee would be.
    • Beth Rudolph said that £100 was reasonable.
    • Jonathan Smithers stated that the Law Society does not have a position, but that he would think that it should depend on the cost of marketing.
  • Helen Hayes MP (Labour) asked what needed to change to ensure that all leaseholders are made aware of the full terms and implications of their lease, and whether a requirement to provide buyers with information on average charges would help.
    • Jonathan Smithers noted the problem of hindsight, and stated that the challenge for the solicitor is in ensuring that the client has understood all the information they are given. He said that a requirement to provide average charges information would help, but it would need to be accompanied by enforcement.
  • Helen Hayes MP asked whether the witnesses would support the creation of a dispute resolution system for leaseholders who have disputes with their solicitors.
    • Beth Rudolph stated that the Legal Ombudsman and regulators already provide routes for pursuing complaints against solicitors.
    • Jonathan Smithers said he was unaware of anyone suggesting that a new redress scheme would be better than the existing schemes.
  • Bob Blackman MP (Conservative) asked why so many people had complained that they had not been given independent advice.
    • Jonathan Smithers said the move in the market from small local developers to a few large-scale developers had driven a change in attitude from developers, who have taken advantage of the power imbalance between buyers and sellers.
    • He also said that he had not seen any evidence to suggest that there is a direct causal linkage between a particular group of firms doing the conveyancing and the way the developers act.
    • Beth Rudolph said the key was that buyers were not given the full information up front. She cited a survey which showed that only 2% of buyers said they had received key information before viewing the property.
  • Lease administration fees

  • Bob Blackman MP asked whether the witnesses would support a government cap on lease administration fees.
    • Beth Rudolph stated that she would support a cap, and also called for a review of the Housing Act and the issue of long lease.
  • Bob Blackman MP asked whether conveyancers are now warning clients against buying leasehold properties.
    • Beth Rudolph noted that according to anecdotal evidence this appears to be more the case in the south than in the north. She said that one issue is the uncertainty over the future of leasehold due to the potential for government intervention.
    • Jonathan Smithers argued it was more a case of lenders refusing to lend money where there are risks, which has a knock on effect across the market.
  • Retrospective legislation

  • Teresa Pearce MP (Labour) asked whether it was correct that retrospective legislation cannot be used to change the terms of existing leases.
    • Jonathan Smithers stated that there was a wider issue around the rule of law, and that retrospection could be problematic for the wider market. He said the government could incentivise developers to offer deeds of variation through the use of soft power, but that retrospective legislation could lead to claims being made under the Human Rights Act.
  • Teresa Pearce MP asked what the risks of retrospective legislation would be.
    • Jonathan Smithers highlighted the risk of unintended consequences on the value of properties, certainty in the law and confidence in the market. He also noted that any free bargains entered into by leaseholders could also be negatively affected by retrospection.
    • Beth Rudolph noted the importance of the doctrine of non-derogation from grants.

Relevant points from panel 2, with Anthony Essien

  • Asked by Teresa Pearce MP about the government's proposals to cap ground rents at £10, Anthony Essien stated that he would prefer it to be capped at peppercorn as a £10 rent would be uneconomical to collect.
  • Asked by Teresa Pearce MP whether legislation could retrospectively amend lease terms, Anthony Essien stated that the government had intervened in the market before. He said he believed the government should intervene, even on existing leases.
  • Asked by Helen Hayes MP whether some leaseholders were mis-sold, Anthony Essien referenced a firm that was reported as having represented over 500 leaseholders.

Tuesday 11 December

No confidence motion in Theresa May

The prime minister faced a vote of no confidence in her leadership of the Conservative Party after the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs confirmed that enough letters requesting a vote had been received.

Theresa May won the vote by 200 votes to 117. She can now not be challenged by Conservative MPs in the same way for another year.

Wednesday 12 December

House of Commons

Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill; Remaining stages

The Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill passed the House of Commons yesterday after completing its remaining stages – Report Stage and Third Reading.

The debate on the Bill was brought forward on Monday following the decision to withdraw the vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal.

The Law Society was mentioned 6 times during the debate, which can be read here.

During report stage, there were votes on 2 amendments, the results of which are detailed below.

No. Tabled by Explanation Result
2 The Opposition This amendment would stipulate that the minimum legal qualifications for authorised persons should be three years' experience post-qualification. Defeated at division
5 The Opposition This amendment would grant people subject to a decision made under delegated powers a statutory right to judicial reconsideration. Defeated at division

The Bill then passed Third Reading.

During the debates:

  • Shadow Justice Minister Yasmin Qureshi MP accused the government of trying to 'sneak through changes that will change unconstitutional double delegation of legislative power to unaccountable judges sitting on procedure rule committees and of judicial powers to non-independent courts and tribunal staff.'

  • She argued that it is only appropriate that those who are carrying out judicial functions and making decisions in cases are qualified and appropriately experienced.

  • She called for a minimum safeguard through a right of reconsideration where a decision has been made in a case by somebody who has been delegated authority.

  • Chairman of the Justice Select Committee, Bob Neill MP argued that the proposed amendments go further than is appropriate. He argued that the measures in the Bill are a logical follow-on from the Briggs report.

  • Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lucy Frazer QC MP, argued that the UK was at the 'forefront of innovation' in our justice system. She noted that 300,000 people have started to engage with justice services online. She described the proposed amendments by the opposition as inappropriate. She noted that it is important that staff have qualifications that match the role, but argued that the qualifications set out in the amendment were not appropriate. She argued that the Bill is a key component of the government's £1bn programme of reform and modernisation.

The Bill will now progress to the House of Lords to consider amendments made in the House of Commons, before moving on to Royal Assent.

Thursday 13 December

House of Commons

Attorney General oral questions

The Attorney General answered questions in the House of Commons. The full session can be read here, and a summary of the session is included below.

During the session:

  • Contempt of Parliament - The Attorney General responded to questions on the government being found in contempt of Parliament, following the vote to do so regarding the failure to publish legal advice relating to the Northern Ireland backstop. He noted that the government have now published the legal advice. He argued that the House should look again at the procedures relating to the publication of legal advice. The Shadow Solicitor General, Nick Thomas-Symonds MP (Labour) asked about what was published as legal advice, and whether what was published actually constituted the full legal advice provided to Cabinet. The Attorney General responded by confirming that it was the final and full advice that was given to the Cabinet.

  • Leaving the EU and human rights - Deidre Brock MP (SNP) noted that the Scottish Government announced plans to introduce a new statutory human rights framework across Scotland. She raised concerns about erosion of human rights as the UK leaves the EU. The Attorney General confirmed that the government is 'fully committed to the human rights framework of the European Convention on Human Rights'. He argued that the UK has a strong tradition at the forefront of the development of civil liberties and human rights.

  • Anti-money laundering and economic crime - The Solicitor General noted the recent financial action taskforce report in response to questions on the UK's ability to tackle money laundering. He referred to the world-leading role that the UK plays in the fight against illicit finance, particularly the risk of money laundering. He welcomed the introduction of unexplained wealth orders following the Criminal Finances Act 2017.

Question or comments? Contact the Public Affairs team at

Tags: Theresa May | Westminster weekly update | Brexit | courts

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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