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Westminster weekly update: New consultation on laws to protect the armed forces

29 July 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

Read and share the Law Society's message to the new prime minister and our vision for law and justice.

Five things you need to know

1. New prime minister Boris Johnson

Following Theresa May’s resignation as prime minister last Wednesday, new leader of the Conservative Party Boris Johnson was invited to form a government by the Queen. He made his first speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street shortly after, outlining some of the priorities for his premiership.

Johnson said he is confident of being able to secure a deal that does not include the backstop with the European Union before 31 October – a 99 day deadline. However, he went on to argue that the UK must prepare for the 'remote possibility' of a no deal scenario, and acknowledged that this will engender difficulties. He said that the union flag is recognised across the world for a series of values, including equality, democracy, and the rule of law, and announced policies on the social care crisis, policing, and animal welfare.

Last Thursday he delivered a statement to Parliament, reiterating his intention to deliver Brexit on 31 October. He went on to outline his vision for a country that by 2050 is the most prosperous in Europe, with a network of free trade deals and world class infrastructure. He said his preference would be to leave the EU with a deal, but that the withdrawal agreement must be revised to remove the Northern Irish backstop – a time limit, he said, would not be acceptable. He also argued for stronger sentences for the most serious violent and sexual crimes.

2. Robert Buckland QC MP promoted to lord chancellor

Last Wednesday night prime minister Boris Johnson MP confirmed that Robert Buckland QC MP had accepted the role of lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice.

Buckland was born in Llanelli, South Wales, in 1968. He studied law at the University of Durham, where he served as president of the Union Society. After graduating in 1990, he went on to study at the Inns of Court, before being called to the Bar in 1991. He proceeded to practise criminal and planning law in Wales at Iscoed Chambers in Swansea and Apex Chambers in Cardiff. More recently, he has practised as a door tenant at 23 Essex Street Chambers, London. Appointed a recorder of the Crown Court in 2009, he sat on the Midland Circuit. He was appointed as a Queen’s Counsel in 2014.

During his maiden speech in Parliament, he spoke out on criminal justice, calling for a cultural shift in attitudes towards crime and advocating crime prevention by early intervention. He referred to this in his first speech as prisons minister in June 2019, saying that early intervention is at 'the root of it all'.

He was appointed as solicitor general in July 2014, replacing Oliver Heald. Whilst he generally voted for restricting the scope of legal aid during the Coalition years, more recently in 2017 he told the Law Gazette that 'pro bono is not a substitute for legal aid'. He has also worked to promote the importance of public legal education, and criticised the state of the prison system, arguing that it has failed in fulfilling its basic functions. He said: 'It is a scandal that those who have to pass sentences in the Crown Court and other places are influenced by pressures on prison numbers. It is simply unacceptable and literally a denial of justice'. Buckland was appointed as prisons and probation minister in May 2019 after Rory Stewart MP was promoted to international development secretary.

3. New cabinet appointed

The prime minister Boris Johnson appointed a new cabinet swiftly last Wednesday evening, with large numbers of Theresa May's cabinet leaving their positions. The new cabinet includes four solicitors, and two former lord chancellors.

David Gauke, Jeremy Hunt, Philip Hammond, David Lidington, and Penny Mordaunt were among the high-profile members who departed Cabinet, either through resignation, retirement or sacking.

The new solicitor general will be Michael Ellis MP. Further appointments to junior ministerial roles are still taking place.

4. Online Courts Bill continues progress through Parliament

Last Tuesday the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill passed through Committee Stage in the House of Commons.

The Law Society was mentioned once during the session, and our arguments were referred to throughout.

During the debate, an amendment to ensure greater representation of the legal profession on the Online Procedure Rule Committee was defeated. Members of Parliament recognised the different skills and experiences of solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives, but the Government argued for a 'small, focused and agile committee' to make new court rules.

Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi proposed an amendment which would ensure Online Procedure Rules were subject to greater parliamentary scrutiny. This amendment was also defeated.

The Bill will now progress to Report Stage in the House of Commons when Parliament returns from its summer recess in September.

5. New consultation on laws to protect the armed forces

Last Monday evening the Ministry of Justice launched a consultation on 'new laws to protect armed forces from historical allegations.'

The consultation document contains proposed measures which the government argue when enacted will provide genuine benefits to our armed forces. The proposals include:

  • to legislate for a presumption against prosecution of current or former armed forces personnel for alleged offences committed in the course of duty outside the UK more than ten years ago
  • to ensure that going forward, the law reflects the unique pressures faced by armed forces personnel while deployed on operations outside the UK, through the creation of a new partial defence to murder. This would be available to current and former armed forces personnel who caused a death in the course of duty outside the UK through using more force than strictly necessary for the purposes of self-defence, providing that the initial decision to use force was justified. If convicted, the defence would reduce a conviction for murder to manslaughter

As part of the consultation, the Ministry of Defence are also seeking views on a proposal to restrict the Court's discretion to extend the normal time limit for bringing civil claims for personal injury and/or death in relation to historical events outside of the UK.

The consultation will be open for 12 weeks, and the Law Society will be responding.

The consultation follows the publication of a report by the Defence Select Committee on Monday called 'Drawing a line: Protecting veterans by a Statute of Limitation'.

Coming up this week

Parliament has now risen for its summer recess, and will return on Tuesday 3 September 2019.

If you made it this far

Find out more about the Ministry of Justice's accelerated Criminal Legal Aid Review work plan.


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

Tags: Westminster weekly update | Conservatives | courts

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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