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Westminster weekly update: Lord chancellor announces £2 million boost for UK lawtech

10 June 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

The Law Society are holding a drop-in event for MPs to learn more about our legal aid deserts campaign. Use our online tool to encourage your MP to attend.

Five things you need to know

1. Lord chancellor announces £2 million boost for UK lawtech

Last Tuesday the lord chancellor used a keynote speech at the Law Society's AI in Legal Services Summit to announce that the government is committing over £2 million of funding to support the UK's lawtech sector.

The funding announcement will complement the work of the LawTech Delivery Panel - a government-backed and industry-led initiative chaired by Law Society President Christina Blacklaws. The panel aims to foster the development of the UK's lawtech sector, harness its potential to boost the UK economy and reinforce the UK's position as a global legal centre.

The LawTech Delivery Panel's UK jurisdiction taskforce (UKJT) is currently running a consultation on the development of an authoritative legal statement on the status of cryptoassets, distributed ledger technology and smart contracts under English law.

2. Algorithms in the criminal justice system report launched by Law Society

Last Tuesday the Law Society unveiled the report of its Technology and the Law Policy Commission, which has conducted a year-long investigation into the use of algorithms in the criminal justice system.

The Commission found that algorithms are already widespread across the criminal justice system, used for everything from basic administrative functions to delivering core judgements that affect people's lives profoundly. An uncritical reliance on these technologies could lead to wrong decisions that threaten human rights and undermine public trust in the justice system.

The report makes a number of specific and actionable recommendations to the Government and other relevant stakeholders covering oversight, algorithmic protections, the procurement process, the lawfulness of algorithms and the analytical capacity of public bodies.

The report recommends:

  • creating a range of new mechanisms and institutional arrangements to improve oversight of algorithms
  • clarifying and strengthening protections in data protection regulations and beyond
  • ensuring control is maintained over the procurement of algorithms for use in the criminal justice system
  • ensuring all algorithms have a clear and explicit basis in law
  • investing in developing public bodies’ capacity to understand and responsibly deploy algorithms

To demonstrate how prevalent the use of algorithms is across our justice system, the Law Society has produced an interactive map showing the types of algorithms currently being deployed by police forces in England and Wales.

3. Justice ministers face MPs

Last Tuesday the lord chancellor and his ministerial team were quizzed by MPs in the House of Commons.

Labour MP Daniel Zeichner asked about support for litigants in family courts. In response, courts minister Paul Maynard MP said that the government is committed to working with the Law Society to improve delivery of family legal aid, whether in court or through mediation. Zeichner asked if the government supports the Bach Commission proposals that legal aid should be brought back into scope for all cases involving children. Responding, Maynard said that the government have been spending £1.5 million a year supporting litigants in person, and will be upping this to £3 million.

Shadow justice minister Gloria de Piero MP referenced the government's ongoing review into practises in family courts, and said that the victim's commissioner and other expert lawyers had voiced concerns the review was not 'in-depth enough' and did not engage with family court lawyers. The minister responded saying that there needs to be a balance 'between speed of action and getting the right decision-making process in place'. He said that there were experts in family law on the panel, as well as a representation of victims through Women's Aid.

Labour MP Barry Sheerman asked what the government was doing to improve the post-conviction disclosure regime. Victims minister Edward Argar MP replied that the police have a responsibility to disclose relevant material, and it was the role of the Independent Criminal Cases Review Commission to examine possible miscarriages of justice. He went on to say the ICCRC can only refer cases meeting statutory criteria, and that there are no current plans to review that.

4. PM formally resigns, triggering leadership contest

Last Friday Theresa May formally resigned from her position as Conservative Party Leader, having announced her intention to do so last month. She will remain as acting leader, and as prime minister, until a successor is elected by the Conservative Party. The rules of the contest have been announced by the 1922 Committee, the association of backbench Conservative MPs which oversees the election.

The first stage of the election will begin today, with Conservative MPs winnowing down the number of candidates through run-off votes until two remain; a winner is then selected from this pair through a ballot of Conservative members. Candidates must be nominated by eight MPs, with the deadline being 5pm on Monday 10 June. The first round of votes will follow on Thursday, with candidates who secure 16 or fewer votes from their colleagues being eliminated.

The second round follows a similar system, with any candidates with 32 or fewer votes removed from the contest. After this, rounds of run-off voting occur, with the candidate with the fewest votes eliminated each time. A final pair will be announced on or before Thursday 20 June, at which point they will have just over a month to campaign before the final poll of party members decides the winner.

Boris Johnson MP remains the front-runner, having secured 40 MPs publicly supporting his candidacy - 14 more than his closest competitor, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt MP. Johnson spoke at candidate hustings held last Monday by the liberal 'one nation' caucus of Conservative MPs, where he said that it was vital the UK leaves the EU on 31 October.

Monday saw two MPs who had previously declared their intention to run for the leadership pull out of the race. Housing minister Kit Malthouse MP cited an 'appetite for the race to be over quickly', and Brexit minister James Cleverly MP acknowledged it was 'highly unlikely' he would be able to progress to the final two candidates.

5. Lords Committee on Courts and Tribunals Bill

Earlier today the House of Lords Constitution Committee have published their assessment of the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill. The Constitution Committee is appointed each session 'to examine the constitutional implications of all public bills coming before the House; and to keep under review the operation of the constitution.'

In the report, the Committee:

  • welcomes the Bill as part of a necessary package of modernisation measures to improve the operation of the courts
  • describes it as unsatisfactory for legislation to be drafted in a way that fails to acknowledge the fundamental right to a fair hearing, both at common law and under the European Convention on Human Rights. While ministers may have no intention of using the powers provided by the Bill to undermine the right to an oral hearing, it is incumbent on Parliament to frame the powers it confers in a way that acknowledges and respects fundamental constitutional principles
  • highlights their concerns that the Bill confers broad powers on ministers to limit oral hearings in a much wider range of cases than is currently envisaged
  • encourages the government to include a requirement for the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice, or the Senior President of Tribunals where appropriate, rather than merely consultation, to ensure the fair and efficient administration of the justice system for which they are responsible
  • encourages the government to place a duty on the lord chancellor to ensure that adequate provision is made to enable access to online proceedings for those with limited digital means, digital literacy, or general literacy

Coming up this week

All eyes next week will be on the Conservative leadership election, with nominations and the first poll of MPs happening on Monday and Thursday respectively.

In the Commons, the Justice Select Committee will hear evidence from the Public Law Project and Women's Aid on court and tribunal reform, and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy ministerial team will be questioned in the chamber by MPs.

In the Lords, the justice sub-group of the European Union Committee will hear evidence from the Ministry of Justice on rights after Brexit, and the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill will continue in Committee Stage.

If you made it this far

The flagship event of our women in leadership in law programme is fast approaching: our international symposium on the power of gender equality to transform the business of law is being held at the Hilton Bankside, London on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 June.


Question or comments? Contact the Public Affairs team at parliamentary@lawsociety.org.uk or 020 7320 5858.

Tags: Theresa May | Westminster weekly update | Conservatives

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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