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Westminster weekly update: Fixed recoverable costs consultation launched

01 April 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

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. Withdrawal Agreement voted down for third time

On Friday the prime minister today brought forward a motion asking the House to approve the Withdrawal Agreement (minus the attached political declaration), and it was defeated by a majority of 58 votes - 286 ayes to 344 noes.

Following the vote, May noted that (as the deadline for an Article 50 extension until 22 May was contingent on the Withdrawal Agreement passing) the legal default is now that the UK will leave the EU on 12 April. A further extension would require the UK to participate in European parliamentary elections in May, and would need to be requested by the UK and approved by the EU.

On Wednesday night the House of Commons voted on different Brexit outcomes via a series of indicative votes, including a customs union, a second referendum, Labour's policy, Common Market 2.0, no deal, managed no deal, EEA/EFTA, and revoking Article 50. No single option secured a majority, with the nearest being a Customs Union - defeated by 8 - and a second referendum - defeated by 27.

In a speech to the 1922 Committee, the backbench association of Conservative MPs, the prime minister pledged to step down before the next stage of negotiations begins, which cannot happen until the UK formally leaves.

2. Justice Select Committee discusses Lammy Review

On Tuesday the Justice Committee held a session exploring what progress has been made in the implementation of the recommendations of the Lammy Review - an independent inquiry into the treatment of BAME people in the criminal justice system.

18 months on from the publication of the review, the Committee heard concerns that although there has been activity in setting up structures and governance to take the recommendations of the review forward, there has been little concrete evidence of improvement in outcomes.

Labour's Ellie Reeves MP highlighted the lack of trust from BAME people in the criminal justice system identified in the report, which notes it has been a driver for people entering not guilty please and having no-comment interviews. David Lammy MP argued that some of the legal aid changes 'drive an incentive to pitch for a jury trial.'

The Committee and David Lammy MP also raised further concerns regarding judicial diversity. Lammy noted that 'in every exercise for judicial appointment, at every stage, there is a disproportionate drop-off between BAME applicants and white applicants. There is also often a drop off between women and other applicants.'

3. MPs debate modern slavery

On Wednesday Conservative backbencher Iain Duncan Smith MP held a Westminster Hall debate on modern slavery and victim support.

Opening the debate, Duncan Smith noted that people are often surprised to learn that modern slavery exists in the UK. He welcomed the passage of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and called for greater support for victims of modern slavery.

Speaking on behalf of the opposition, Carolyn Harris MP (Labour) said that support and assistance for potential victims of modern slavery should have statutory underpinning, and called for a strong and co-ordinated response from all services to tackle modern slavery.

Responding on behalf of the government, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Home Office Victoria Atkins MP said protecting victims of modern slavery is a responsibility that the government takes seriously, and that the government is identifying more victims than ever before. The 2018 statistics showed that there has been a 36% increase in the number of victims referred to the national referral mechanism.

4. More Brexit statutory instruments passed by Parliament

This week two statutory instruments preparing for a no deal Brexit were debated in Grand Committee in the House of Lords. Both instruments have now successfully navigated each House and passed into law.

The Law Society was mentioned as a key consultant to the drafting of the Law Applicable to Contractual Obligations and Non-Contractual Obligations (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 by Justice Minister Lord Keen of Elie.

5. Fixed recoverable costs consultation launched

The government have published a new consultation on the amount of damages that can be claimed back from a losing party in civil litigation. In 2017 Sir Rupert Jackson recommended that fixed recoverable costs should apply to claims valued up to £25,000, with a further fixed recoverable costs regime for some cases of modest complexity up to £100,000.

The Law Society argue that these costs should be fixed at a reasonable rate to reflect the work carried out. We argue that a regime to limit the costs of civil litigation could have both positive and negative impacts on access to justice and will need to be carefully calibrated if it is to be fair to everyone engaged in a claim. The consultation closes on 6 June 2019.

Coming up this week

Next week will see several key Brexit developments in the Commons. On Monday the cross-party group of backbenchers led by Conservative Sir Oliver Letwin MP who oversaw the indicative votes on Wednesday will seek to hold a series of 'run-off' votes to narrow down outcomes and seek a majority for a single option. If a majority is found, the preferred outcome will be passed on Wednesday in an Emergency Bill compelling government to act.

Elsewhere in the Commons, the Justice Select Committee will be taking evidence from solicitor general Robert Buckland QC MP on his work, as well as from lord chancellor David Gauke MP on the LASPO review. The Exiting the European Union Select Committee will be questioning Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay MP on the progress of negotiations with the EU. The week will also see MPs put questions to Home Office and Exiting the European Union Department ministers in the Commons chamber.

In the Lords, the Constitution Committee will take evidence from the lord chief justice.

If you made it this far

We have published a summary of our work on Brexit and the priorities that underlie it for our members. In it we also reference out Global Legal Centre campaign, which we use to promote England and Wales as the destination of choice for legal services.

Question or comments? Contact the Public Affairs team at or 020 7320 5858.

Tags: Law Society | justice | Westminster weekly update | Brexit

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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