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Westminster weekly update: Home Office announce RUI review

11 November 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 will be pausing Westminster Weekly during the campaigning period ahead of the 12 December general election.

Look out for a special edition covering the manifestos of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, which are thought to be published during the week commencing 18 November.

Five things you need to know

1. Home Office announce RUI review

Following our high-profile campaign and analysis, it has been announced that release under investigation (RUI) is to be reviewed.

An investigation by the Law Society revealed tens of thousands of suspects are being released under investigation (RUI) – an open-ended arrangement which lacks the conditions, balances and checks afforded by bail.

For those accused of crimes and released under investigation, they are essentially ‘left in limbo’ for long periods of time – sometimes for over a year – with no updates or indication from the police if or when the case will progress. This can cause much anxiety and distress for those involved – including victims.

We have consistently called for time limits for RUI, which leaves suspects and victims in limbo.

In October our analysis received coverage in over 115 media outlets, including Channel 4 news, the Daily Mail, the Guardian, the Express and the Telegraph.

Find out more about the review

2. Further concerns raised regarding court modernisation programme

Following the publication last week of the Justice Select Committee’s report on the court modernisation programme, further concerns have been raised in a new report published by the Public Accounts Committee on Tuesday (5 November).

Richard Miller provided oral evidence on behalf of the Law Society to the Public Accounts Committee’s inquiry, and the Law Society were mentioned 12 times in their final report.

A summary of the report's conclusions and recommendations is below:

  • time frame – the committee conclude that reforms are continuing to fall behind schedule, and they remain unconvinced that it is possible for HMCTS to deliver everything promised in the current time frame. They recommend that HMCTS write to the committee once it finalises its next business case to set out the proposed alternative arrangements if plans cannot be achieved within current time frames
  • confidence in the justice system – the committee argue that HMCTS risk undermining public confidence in the fairness of the justice system by proceeding with its reforms without sufficiently demonstrating that it understands the impact on justice outcomes or people. They make criticisms of its evaluation process and argue that HMCTS has not fully explored the impact that using video-hearings has on outcomes for defendants. They note concerns from the Law Society on how online services may disadvantage users with low digital or legal literacy. They recommend that HMCTS and the Ministry of Justice write to the committee by July 2020 demonstrating how evaluations will influence the implementation of future services and how they affect justice outcomes
  • court closures – the committee conclude that HMCTS did not adequately consider how previous court closures impacted on access to the justice system, particularly for vulnerable users. They note HMCTS is planning to close a further 77 courts in the next phase of reform, having already closed 127 since 2015, and that these courts were closed before services were moved online. They recommend that HMCTS set out what it will do to make sure that the needs of vulnerable users are considered in future closure decisions, and where access issues are apparent, it should put in place measures to compensate for difficulties

Read the full report

3. EXEU committee hears evidence on Brexit negotiations

Last week the Exiting the EU committee received oral evidence as part of their ongoing inquiry into the progress of the UK’s negotiations on EU withdrawal. The witnesses were:

  • Professor Catherine Barnard, professor of EU Law, Cambridge University
  • Dr Anna Jerzewska, independent customs and trade consultant and independent advisor, UN International Trade Centre
  • Raoul Ruparel OBE, former adviser to the Prime Minister on Europe
  • Dr Jack Simson Caird, senior research fellow, Bingham Centre

Barnard, in answer to a question from chair Hilary Benn MP about the likelihood of reaching an agreement with the EU on new trading arrangements by December 2020, noted the difficulty of agreeing terms for trade in services compared to trade in goods. She observed that the UK has a trade surplus with the EU in services, and therefore has “a much greater interest in having a trade agreement on services.” She referred to recognition of regulatory standards, and also argued that trade in services with the EU will likely require greater level playing field commitments in other areas.

In response to a question from Sir Christopher Chope MP, Barnard observed that if the Withdrawal Agreement Bill were passed in January, then there would only be 11 months until the December 2020 transition period deadline. This, she said, is “very short indeed to negotiate an international trade agreement, especially one of the ambition and scope that the political declaration indicates."

Jerzewska observed that “there are always more costs, red tape, formalities and effort required when you are in an FTA, versus a single market or customs union.” She later argued that “it is very difficult for businesses to plan,” referring to the lack of certainty surrounding the UK’s exit.

4. Criminal legal aid review: an update

The Law Society had expected an interim set of announcements this month as part of the accelerated work in the criminal legal aid review.

On Tuesday (5 November) the president of the Law Society spoke to the lord chancellor who confirmed that due to the upcoming general election, anticipated announcements cannot now take place in November as originally envisaged.

Alongside our criminal justice campaign, the Law Society and others have been feeding evidence into the review to ensure that our serious concerns about the sustainability of the criminal justice system are understood.

In light of our conversation with the Ministry of Justice, we understand that the review has been making good progress. A strong evidence base has been built, but it remains a matter for the next administration to make decisions on future investment. Timing-wise, we understand that it is feasible that interim decisions could be made shortly after the election.

Whatever the outcome of the general election, we will do all we can to ensure that the criminal justice system is an urgent priority for the next government.

Read more about our campaign

Read more about the review

5. Housing Secretary of State gives evidence to MPs

Last week the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government (HCLG) Robert Jenrick MP gave evidence to the HCLG Committee on the work of his department.

During the session the committee touched on leasehold reform, and probed the government’s plans to bring forward legislation on this subject. Jenrick stated that, while the Queen’s Speech did not explicitly mention leasehold reform, it is his intention to bring forward a bill on leasehold reform at the “earliest opportunity.” He declined to give detail on what the legislation would contain, but after being pushed on addressing onerous terms in existing leases by committee chair Clive Betts MP he said he would give this issue “careful thought.”

In response to questions about building owners passing on the costs of removing dangerous cladding to leaseholders, Jenrick said that the owners bear responsibility for the costs of removal, but if they are legally able to pass on those costs they can do so at their discretion. He said his department had not considered making any changes to this state of affairs, which in his words would amount to “a pretty fundamental change to the rights of building owners and leaseholders”.

Jenrick also highlighted the government’s proposed building safety bill, which was included in the Queen’s Speech, saying that he believed it would be “possibly the most important piece of legislation on housing, construction and safety in the industry for 40 years.” He said the bill could include a provision to put the New Homes Ombudsman on a statutory footing, and he further noted that he had asked Dame Judith Hackitt to provide advice to the government by the end of November on the proposed building safety regulator, including how it should be established.

Coming up this week

Parliament has now been dissolved and the official election campaign has begun.

This week will see the deadline for prospective parliamentary candidates to submit their nomination papers on Thursday (14 November).

If you made it this far

Watch some of the valedictory speeches of MPs retiring from Parliament ahead of the general election.

Watch the valedictory speeches

Read a full transcript

Tags: Westminster weekly update | Parliament | 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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