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Westminster weekly update: Election manifesto special

02 December 2019

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

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Five things you need to know

1. Our vision for law and justice

Ahead of the general election, we have identified a series of key policy asks that we’re calling on all political parties to adopt to fix our broken criminal justice system, make the legal system accessible to all, maintain the attractiveness of the UK as a global legal centre and ensure the UK leads the way on new technology.

These are outlined in our manifesto, Our vision for law and justice 2019. We are calling on whoever forms the next government to:

  • conduct an independent economic review of the long-term viability of the criminal legal aid system and raise criminal legal aid fees in real terms
  • reinstate legal aid for early advice, particularly in housing and family law, and increase the civil legal aid means test income and capital thresholds
  • commit to increasing civil legal aid fees in line with inflation and commission an independent review of the sustainability of the civil legal aid system
  • ensure we have a deal and therefore avoid a no deal Brexit, as this will cause damage to the legal services sector the wider economy and the rule of law
  • secure a future relationship with the EU that allows UK lawyers to continue to practise law and base themselves in the EU, appear before EU courts and ensure legal professional privilege for their clients
  • recognise the value of lawtech as a distinct sector by adopting the LawTech Delivery Panel’s definition of lawtech as “technologies which aim to support, supplement or replace traditional methods for delivering legal services, or which improve the operation of the justice system”

Read the full manifesto

2. Conservative Party manifesto

The Conservative Party launched their manifesto, Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain’s Potential, on Sunday 24 November.

The manifesto states that “as Conservatives, we stand for democracy and the rule of law. Our independent courts and legal system are respected throughout the world.”

The main points of interest to the profession are:

Brexit

  • tabling the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the former government “before Christmas” and leaving the EU by 31 January 2020
  • ensuring that the UK will not be part of the single market, any kind of customs union, and ending the role of the European Court of Justice
  • negotiating and implementing a trade agreement by December 2020

Access to justice

  • establishing a Royal Commission on the criminal justice process
  • conducting a “root-and-branch review” of the parole system, including giving victims the right to attend hearings
  • committing to ensuring that “anyone charged with knife possession will appear before magistrates within days not weeks”
  • introducing a Victims’ Law

Domestic abuse

  • reintroducing the Domestic Abuse Bill in the next session of Parliament
  • piloting integrated domestic abuse courts to address family and criminal matters simultaneously

Human rights and rule of law

  • committing to introducing legislation to “tackle the vexatious legal claims that undermine our Armed Forces”
  • establishing a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission within the first year of government
  • ensuring that judicial review is not abused to “conduct politics by another means or create needless delays”
  • updating the Human Rights Act and further developing an “independent, Magnitsky-style sanctions regime to tackle human rights abusers.”
  • continuing their campaign to eradicate human trafficking and modern slavery

Leasehold

  • continuing reforms to leasehold, including implementing a ban on the sale of new leasehold homes, restricting ground rents and providing mechanisms of redress for tenants

Read the full Conservative manifesto

3. Labour Party manifesto

Labour launched their manifesto, It’s time for real change, on Thursday 21 November. The manifesto states that “the crisis in our criminal justice system has left communities less safe, victims less supported and people less able to defend their rights. Labour will defend the rule of law.”

The main points of interest to the profession are:

Brexit

  • negotiating a withdrawal agreement within three months of forming a government and holding a second referendum with this deal offered alongside a ‘remain’ option within six months
  • prioritising close alignment with the single market in withdrawal agreement negotiations
  • automatically granting EU nationals the right to continue living and working in the UK

Legal aid

  • restoring all legal aid for early advice, including for housing, social security, family and immigration cases
  • consulting on the civil legal aid means test and acting on the recommendations of the criminal legal aid review
  • providing legal aid for inquests into deaths in state custody and preparation of judicial review cases

Access to justice

  • halting court closures and cuts to staff and reviewing the courts reform programme.
  • reviewing funding for the Crown Prosecution Service
  • implementing the recommendations of the Lammy Review to address the disproportionate levels of BAME children in custody
  • investing in alternatives to custody, including women’s centres, problem-solving courts and “plugging the gap in the female offender strategy”
  • recruiting new community lawyers, expanding the current network of law centres and promoting public legal education
  • introducing no-fault divorce

Domestic abuse

  • reintroducing a Domestic Abuse Bill in the next session of Parliament
  • appointing a “Commissioner for Violence against Women and Girls”
  • prohibiting the cross-examination of domestic violence victims by their abuser

Rule of law

  • working with the Labour Government in Wales to implement the findings of the Thomas Commission on Justice
  • pledging commitment to the Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights
  • allocating £20 million to support survivors of modern slavery, people trafficking and domestic violence
  • creating a “Charter of Digital Rights” to protect data and online rights

Leasehold

  • ending the sale of new leasehold properties
  • abolishing unfair fees and conditions and giving leaseholders the right to buy their freehold at an “affordable price”
  • introducing equivalent rights for freeholders on privately-owned estates

Read the full Labour manifesto

4. Liberal Democrat Party manifesto

The Liberal Democrat manifesto, Stop Brexit, Build a brighter future, was launched on Wednesday 20 November. The main points of interest to the profession are:

Brexit

  • stopping Brexit by revoking Article 50
  • using the £50 billion “remain bonus” that would come from remaining in the EU to fund increased public spending

Access to justice

  • investing £500 million to restore legal aid
  • introducing the right to no-fault divorce and extending limited legal rights to cohabiting couples
  • legislating for a statutory definition of domestic abuse, preventing direct cross-examination of domestic abuse survivors by their abusers and ensuring access to special measures for survivors in all courts
  • establishing a “Women’s Justice Board” and implementing specialist training for staff in contact with women in the criminal justice system
  • addressing the over-representation of BAME people in the criminal justice system by recording data on ethnicity for analysis and scrutiny

Rule of law

  • creating a distinct legal jurisdiction for Wales and further devolving powers over youth justice, probation services, prisons and policing
  • championing the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • introducing a European Magnitsky Act
  • providing additional funding to the National Crime Agency to address organised crime, modern slavery and human trafficking
  • creating a code of ethics for the use of personal data and artificial intelligence
  • immediately halting the use of facial recognition technology by the police

Read the full Liberal Democrat manifesto

5. Other parties' key pledges

Key justice-related pledges in other manifestos include:

Plaid Cymru

  • campaigning for a “Final Say” referendum in which the party will back ‘remain’
  • reversing cuts to legal aid and ensuring all benefit recipients automatically qualify for legal aid
  • reintroducing the Domestic Abuse Bill in the next session of Parliament
  • implementing the recommendations of the Lammy Review to address the treatment of BAME individuals within the criminal justice system
  • introducing suspended sentences for women charged with non-violent crimes and support for “dedicated, small, prison or secure centres for female prisoners in Wales"
  • devolution of police and justice to Wales, as argued by the Thomas Commission on Justice in Wales
  • a Self-Determination bill aiming to introduce a referendum on Welsh independence by 2030

Green Party

  • retaining the Human Rights Act and reaffirming the UK’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights
  • creating a new “Ministry for the Interior” responsible for protecting human rights
  • reversing cuts to legal aid to “prevent survivors being forced to represent themselves against their abusers in court”
  • introducing a new Domestic Abuse Bill to enable the prosecution of economic abuse
  • establishing a cross-government strategy to address ethnic inequalities, including bias treatment in the criminal justice system
  • expanding restorative justice projects and enhancing currently available rehabilitation services
  • creating specialist women’s centres in order to reduce the female prison population, and youth centres to help at-risk children and reduce crime

SNP

  • campaigning for a new referendum on Scottish independence
  • working "with others across Scotland and the UK to escape from Brexit," including by backing a second referendum on Brexit with a 'remain' option
  • working to retain EU-wide criminal justice and investigation systems
  • reaffirming commitment to the Council of Europe and the European Commission on Human Rights (EHCR)
  • pledging to oppose any attempts to withdraw from the Human Rights Act and the ECHR

Read the full Plaid Cymru manifesto

Read the full Green Party manifesto

Read the full SNP manifesto

Coming up this week

Election campaigning will continue this week, with focus expected on key seats in the Midlands and northern regions after the release of Labour's regional manifestos.

The election will be held on Thursday 12 December with results expected in the early hours of Friday 13 December.

If you made it this far

Read our member guidance to find our more about the general election, how to contact your local candidates, and our vision for law and justice.

Tags: Westminster weekly update | Parliament | Brexit | Conservatives | Labour | Liberal Democrats

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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