One thing you need to do
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Five things you need to know
1. Law Society gives evidence on no fault divorce
Last Tuesday the Law Society was called to give oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee on the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill which is currently going through the House of Commons.
David Hodson, a member of the Law Society's Family Law Committee, was the Society's representative at the session, appearing alongside Aidan Jones OBE, chief executive at Relate, and Nigel Shepherd, former chair of Resolution.
David reiterated the Law Society's support of no fault divorce and set out our position on the Bill, in particular the need for a litigation-free period of reflection at the beginning of divorce proceedings and clarity over when the notice period commences.
The Bill has now completed its Committee Stage. MPs have been tabling amendments, some of which reflect our position, ahead of the Report Stage, the date for which has yet to be announced.
2. Government responds to leasehold report
Last Wednesday the government released its response to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee's report on leasehold reform.
Among the recommendations taken up by the government was a proposal, advocated by the Law Society, to ensure that prospective buyers receive key sales information, including information on lease terms, from the developers and their estate agents at the very beginning of the process. The government also outlined its plans to end the sale of new build houses as leasehold, and legislate to reduce ground rents on all future leases to zero financial value.
The government's response also addressed the role of solicitors, and highlighted the established and existing routes to redress available to consumers who wish to take forward a complaint or claim against their conveyancing solicitor.
This follows on from the government's response last week to its consultation on implementing reforms to the leasehold system, which included a number of the proposals outlined above.
3. Online Courts Bill completes passage through the Lords
The Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill concluded its passage through the House of Lords last Tuesday following its Third Reading. During the Third Reading a number of government amendments were made to the Bill, including amendments to ensure that paper processes are available at each stage as a case progresses, to provide greater support for users of online services, and to ensure that the lord chief justice concurs with the lord chancellor before new online procedures can be created following recommendations by the Online Procedures Rule Committee.
During the debate the Ministry of Justice's spokesperson in the House of Lords, Lord Keen of Elie, thanked peers for their contributions in amending the Bill and said that it leaves the House of Lords better than it entered.
Last Wednesday, the Bill was introduced and heard for the first time in the House of Commons. No date has yet been announced for the Second Reading of the Bill, which will be the first opportunity for MPs to comment.
4. Lords vote to form Joint Committee on no deal
Last Wednesday Baroness Smith of Basildon, the leader of the Labour Party in the House of Lords, proposed a motion to form a Joint Committee made up of members of both Houses to 'report on the costs and implications' of leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. There was cross-party support for the motion, with Labour and the Liberal Democrats whipping in support, and groups of Crossbench and Conservative peers also voting in favour.
The government whipped against the motion, and Brexit minister Lord Callanan argued that Ministers from the Department for Exiting the European Union had regularly given evidence regarding leaving without a deal to Select Committees over the past years, adequately informing the legislature of the consequences of such an action. He went on to say that if peers are anxious to avoid leaving without a deal, they should have persuaded their colleagues in the House of Commons to support the Withdrawal Agreement. Nonetheless, the motion passed by 245 votes to 99, a majority of 146. Before the Joint Committee can be formed, a similar motion must be passed in the Commons, and it is as yet unclear when it will be tabled.
A different legislative attempt to affect no deal preparations was tabled by Conservative Dominic Grieve MP and Labour's Dame Margaret Beckett MP in the House of Commons earlier this week. They aimed to amend the 'estimates' - a piece of normally uncontroversial government business - to ensure that, if the UK were to leave without a deal and the House of Commons had not directly consented to this, then funding for the Departments for International Trade, Education, and Work and Pensions would be blocked. However, these amendments were not selected for debate by Speaker John Bercow MP.
5. Law officers quizzed by MPs
The attorney general and solicitor general faced questions from MPs in the House of Commons last Thursday.
During the session, Justin Madders MP (Labour) asked about steps the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) takes to support victims and witnesses giving evidence in court, in particular for victims of rape. The solicitor general, Lucy Frazer QC MP, noted that, following a successful pilot, the CPS allows victims and witnesses in such cases to pre-record cross-examination evidence. She noted that there is a cross-governmental review into rape and sexual offences to see how they can improve every stage including securing more prosecutions and convictions. Shadow solicitor general Nick Thomas-Symonds MP asked about a number of cases in which further evidence is sought from the police by the CPS but not provided. The solicitor general responded by highlighting the importance of collaboration between the CPS and police.
Stuart C. McDonald MP (SNP) asked about whether it is the government's position that in the case of a no deal Brexit article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade cannot be unilaterally invoked to ensure a standstill in current trading arrangements, and that the EU cannot be compelled to trade on that basis. The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox QC MP, confirmed that to be the case. David Linden MP (SNP) asked whether he supports Boris Johnson's refusal to rule out a prorogation of Parliament for a no deal Brexit. The attorney general responded by saying that prorogation is not a matter for the attorney general but a matter for the prime minister and the Queen.
Coming up this week
The justice ministers will face questions from MPs on Tuesday, while the lord chancellor will join the lord chief justice on Wednesday in giving oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee as part of its inquiry into the ongoing court and tribunal reforms.
The minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington MP and shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer QC MP will appear in front of the Exiting the European Union Committee on Wednesday to face questions on the UK's negotiations on EU withdrawal, and on Thursday there will be a backbench debate led by the chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts MP, on the subject of leasehold reform.
If you made it this far
Last week Simon Davis became the 175th President of the Law Society. Read his inaugural speech outlining his priorities for his presidential year.
Question or comments? Contact the Public Affairs team at email@example.com or 020 7320 5858.