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Westminster weekly update: Parliament returns from conferences to justice questions and Counter-Terrorism Bill

08 October 2018

Parliament returns from its conference recess this week, and justice-related issues will take centre-stage as the Lord Chancellor and his ministerial team face questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday morning.


Peers will have their first opportunity to debate two Bills in the House of Lords this week, as both the Tenant Fees Bill and the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill have their second reading.

The Law Society has argued that the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill would have severe implications for legal professional privilege and will infringe on the right to confidential and independent legal advice for suspects held at the border. Read our latest briefing.

Meanwhile, the Treasury Select Committee will continue its inquiry on economic crime across two oral evidence sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, and a Westminster Hall debate on tackling modern-day slavery will take place in the Commons on Tuesday.

Last week, in addition to a number of one-to-one meetings with key stakeholders, the Law Society had a full programme of events at the Conservative Party Conference.

Around 80 representatives of the legal profession attended a drinks reception co-hosted by the Law Society, the Bar Council and the Society of Conservative Lawyers, including the Lord Chancellor, David Gauke MP, the Solicitor General Robert Buckland QC MP and chair of the Justice Select Committee Bob Neill MP.

The Law Society also participated in three fringe events on a range of topics, including on the fundamental components of a fully-functioning justice system (with Justice Minister Lucy Frazer QC MP), on Brexit, foreign policy and global Britain (with Exiting the EU Committee member Richard Graham MP and Lord Adonis), and on technology and the legal and ethical implications of artificial intelligence (with Neil O'Brien MP).

This week in Parliament

Tuesday 9 October

House of Commons

  • Justice oral questions
  • Westminster Hall debate on 'tackling modern-day slavery'
  • Home Affairs Committee oral evidence session on 'post-Brexit migration'
  • Treasury Select Committee oral evidence session on 'economic crime'

House of Lords

  • Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill; Second Reading

Wednesday 10 October

House of Commons

  • Procedure Committee oral evidence session on 'exiting the European Union and scrutiny of delegated legislation'
  • Treasury Select Committee oral evidence session on 'economic crime'

House of Lords

  • Oral question on the outcome of the government's last meeting with the European Union Commission to discuss Brexit (Lord Dykes)
  • Tenant Fees Bill; Second Reading

Thursday 11 October

House of Commons

  • General debate on the Victims Strategy

Last week at the Conservative Party Conference

Sunday 30 September - Wednesday 3 October

Events

Drinks reception (Hosted by the Law Society, the Society for Conservative Lawyers and the Bar Council), Monday 1 October

Law Society vice president Simon Davis spoke at a drinks reception, alongside the Lord Chancellor David Gauke MP, Chair of the Bar Council Andrew Walker QC and Chair of the Society of Conservative Lawyers Victoria Prentis MP.

  • Speaking at the event, Victoria Prentis MP said the Society for Conservative Lawyers were helping the government on Brexit and other issues.

  • Simon Davis spoke about the increasingly international work law firms were conducting, the importance of collaboration between lawyers from other jurisdictions to provide clients with the best possible advice, and the Law Society's work in developing this international community. He spoke about the increasing need for lawyers to deliver their clients certainty and security, in the context of clients being able to choose the lawyers they want and the law and jurisdiction which best suits their needs. He said the Law Society supported the government's desire to get a deal which focuses relentlessly on ensuring that EU and UK citizens were not deprived of their freedom of choice, certainty and their security.

  • In his brief remarks, David Gauke spoke about attending his first Opening of the Legal Year ceremony, and previewed his conference speech, saying he would focus on the government's work on prisons and rehabilitation. He agreed with Simon's points about the importance of being outward looking post Brexit, and maintaining the legal profession's reputation for certainty, stability and helping contracting parties to know where they stand. He said the profession needed to be a strong voice for institutions like an independent judiciary and the rule of law. The Lord Chancellor went on to say the government had a good, and sometimes full and frank, dialogue with organisations like the Law Society and the Bar Council.

  • Chair of the Bar Council Andrew Walker QC thanked attendees for engaging with the Society of Conservative Lawyers, adding lawyers were best placed to resolve conflicts, and that this made collaboration between lawyers more important. He went on to say the profession's dialogue with government is crucial, even when they do not agree with the Ministry of Justice's ministerial team.

Around 80 people attended the event, including the Solicitor General Robert Buckland QC MP, chair of the Justice Select Committee Bob Neill MP, and co-chairs of the APPG on Legal and Constitutional Affairs Jonathan Djanogly MP and Lord Hunt of Wirral.

Law Society president Christina Blacklaws spoke at a fringe event alongside Neil O'Brien MP - Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the CBI's Chief UK Policy Director Matthew Fell. The panel was chaired by ConservativeHome Assistant Editor Rebecca Lowe.

  • Christina Blacklaws referenced the use of algorithms in the United States legal system, as well as the work and findings of the Technology and the Law Policy Commission. She acknowledged that some were concerned that the pace of change in technology was too quick, but argued that the opportunities needed to be embraced. Christina spoke about how warmly AI and machine learning was being embraced by global law firms in particular, adding that changing the nature of the lawyer's work would change society. In the Q&A Christina said the ethical questions of using 'robot judges' were for society to answer and that current public opinion would find this idea unacceptable. She also spoke about the Law Society's work with Barclays' incubator Eagle Labs and the government-supported LawTech Delivery Panel, which is focusing on how to ensure the UK is a commercial leader for emerging technologies.

  • Matthew Fell spoke about the UK's strengths in innovation and ideas in its pitch to the world, particularly in e-commerce, universities and scientific research. He also mentioned potential barriers to growth in AI due to people's security concerns and the sensitivity of data (particularly in health), adding that these could be solved by bringing in legal expertise. Fell advocated a strong partnership between government, consumers, business and the legal profession and called for a further increase in spending on innovation funding to 3% of GDP. He said skills, retraining and education were key to ensuring that technology changes led to more, not fewer jobs.

  • Neil O'Brien MP cautioned against excessive regulation and said that AI should be used for its huge potential to change lives for the better (in diagnosing diseases, driverless cars, facial recognition and in fighting tax and welfare fraud). He referenced the Law Society's 'thoughtful work' on accountability and transparency questions around driverless cars. In terms of economic opportunities, he said the UK often had a 'lucky lead' in areas (such as penicillin, lithium batteries) and then others had beaten them to commercialising it. Speaking about the idea of AI 'nationalism,' O'Brien referenced China's large investments in the areas of population control through their social credit system. At government level all of these questions were being looked at through the Industrial Strategy's AI Sector Deal, the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation and the Govtech Fund. He went on to say the UK needed to strengthen its academic base, and should break all the normal funding rules to recruit the top AI thinkers from around the world so the UK's lead to does not slip away to countries that don't have its best interests at heart.

Fringe event on the justice system hosted by JUSTICE think tank, Tuesday 2 October

Law Society president Christina Blacklaws spoke at a fringe event alongside Justice Minister Lucy Frazer QC MP, the Chair of the Bar Council Andrew Walker QC, Director of JUSTICE Andrea Coomber and Justice Select Committee member Victoria Prentis MP.

  • Lucy Frazer said she had been a lawyer for 17 years and that lawyers were a very important part of the justice system. She added that lawyers and politicians were both responsible for setting out the laws of the land. Legal provision was excellent in the UK, but could always be improved. The Minister set out five principles for an effective justice system:
    1. What rights do people need? For example public expression, equality of opportunity.
    2. The need to understand rights - ensuring clarity in laws and procedures.
    3. Access to a forum for presenting one's rights.
    4. That justice comes to the correct answer with ease.
    5. Ensuring people have the opportunity to present cases fairly.
     
  • On the second principle, the Minister said the MoJ had set up civil online dispute resolution, enabling people to make a claim online (for up to £10,000).

  • She went on to say that the right forum may be mediation, for example in the instance of family law, with local authorities and social services playing a leading role. In criminal cases where liberty is in question, it is right that the only solution is a fair trial.

  • The Minister said that the MoJ had trialled a virtual tax tribunal with favourable results where the appellant was in Greece and the judge in Belfast.

  • On the fourth principle, Ms Frazer agreed with Christina's point that tech was part of the answer, saying that 60% of divorce proceedings were now filed online with a less than 1% error rate.

  • In the area of social security, the Minister said tribunals were looking at speeding up this process and piloting email correspondence.

  • On the final principle, the Minister said the government had decided to ensure that the £1.6bn annual sum spent on legal aid would be spent on the most vulnerable and that government departments, and others including the CPS and police needed to ensure that cases were being presented fairly.

  • Ms Frazer concluded by saying that the justice system had moved with the times, and that change and adaptability were inherent in it. She also said it was important to maintain that flexibility in the future.

  • Andrew Walker spoke about the justice system being a safety net, a way of maintaining the public peace with the following key features: fairness and robustness; skilled and ethical lawyers; the need for political support and respect for the rule of law; and the need for access to justice (meaning just outcomes, procedural access and a fair hearing from the courts). He added that it had to earn and inspire the confidence of citizens that wrongs will be righted, and be available when needed (with alternatives there if required). Concluding, he said public legal education and funding was also crucial for a functioning legal system.

  • Christina Blacklaws spoke about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the justice system and in the profession, early legal advice, and legal technology. She said there was a major problem among solicitors, given that 60-70% of newly qualified solicitors entering the profession were female, while less than 15% of law firm owners were women.

  • Andrea Coomber noted that the courts had been democratised in recent decades and went on to give the example of individuals being stuck in the middle of being too well-off to qualify for legal aid and not being able to afford costly civil litigation. She also praised HMCTS' commitment to collect data and said a strong evidence base with monitoring and evaluation was needed.

Fringe event on Global Britain, Brexit and foreign policy with Prospect Magazine, Tuesday 3 October

Law Society president Christina Blacklaws spoke at a fringe event with Exiting the EU Committee member and trade envoy to South East Asia Richard Graham MP, Eurosceptic Conservative MEP Nirj Deva, Labour peer Andrew Adonis and Deputy Editor of Prospect Magazine Steve Bloomfield.

  • Richard Graham set out four elements of Global Britain:
    1. Standing up for democracy.
    2. Increased trade in emerging countries (as well as maintaining trade with the EU) – for example accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), encouraging rule of and rule by law with countries like China, and using DFIDs 'buying power' to influence in Africa.
    3. Resolving the relationship with the EU in as frictionless a way as possible – 'it's with closest neighbours we need to have closest relationships with.'
    4. The advantages of being a soft power – the Commonwealth, the EU, and bilateral friendships give the UK a huge opportunity to be a positive influence for the better.
     
  • In the subsequent questions, Graham said that education was one of the UK's tools for diplomatic success and soft power, adding that large numbers of people in Cabinets around the world had been educated in British institutions – and were therefore more likely to understand the importance of having good law firms for example.

  • Christina recited the positive economic contribution that legal services makes at home and internationally. She referenced the Global Legal Centre campaign, and the Law Society's partnership with the government on its Legal Services Are Great campaign. Christina went on to praise English and Welsh law, its role in dispute resolution, and its clarity, transparency and flexibility. She added that the rule of law was vital to having a Global Britain, and spoke about the EU's role in creating a gold standard in civil justice co-operation, and working with the government around professional services and technology. In subsequent questions on soft power, Christina said the 'gold standard' of English and Welsh law was vital to the country's future on the global stage, adding that the UK must hold fast to the principles of independence, access to justice and the rule of law. She also spoke about the Law Society's work on strengthening and deepening relationships in legal and professional services across the globe.

  • Nirj Deva MEP spoke about his conversations with Commonwealth countries and how they wanted to prioritise an EU-wide, rather than a solely UK trade deal. He said the EU would accelerate its integration now the UK would stop impeding a super state. He said given the United States was withdrawing from the international order, he believed it was the UK who could lead in keeping liberal democracies together and promoting human rights and values for generating a fairer and more decent world.

  • Andrew Adonis refuted the points made by the previous speakers, saying the Commonwealth was irrelevant to the UK's economic interests now and dismissing the idea that the UK could be a meaningful bridge between different blocs without playing a role in any of them. Adonis called for the UK to champion democratic engagement in Europe by remaining in the Union and leading at the heart of it. He also said the best post-Brexit policy the country could adopt was not to do Brexit at all.

Speeches

Liam Fox, Sunday 30 September 2018

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox MP gave his speech at Conservative Party Conference.

In his section on exports, Dr Fox said 'across the world, the public and private sectors alike are seeking UK service exports, in legal services, accountancy, design, project management, insurance and everything in between from improving education to delivering international sporting events.'

In his section on investment, Dr Fox said global investors and capital holders, such as Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank were investing in Britain because they 'recognise the strong fundamentals of the UK economy – our legal system, our skilled workforce, our tax and regulatory environments, our world leading universities, our access to tech and our gold standard IP protection.'

Fox went on to make the following points in his speech:

  • Brexit:Fox called on delegates to stop re-fighting the Brexit referendum and to 'come together to honour the democratic will of the British people or … risk undermining faith in that democratic system itself.' In his closing section, Fox said the UK would take up its independent seat at the World Trade Organisation next March 'as champions of free trade.'
    • Fox went on to say that Europe is, and would continue to be, an important market for UK goods and services, but that there was 'a world beyond Europe and a time beyond Brexit.'
     
  • DIT:Giving statistics about the work of his department in the previous two years, Dr Fox said DIT had:
    • 3,800 staff based in 108 countries
    • Recruited one of the world's best trade negotiators to lead over 500 trade specialists and 'created a new trade profession across Whitehall';
    • Started the new National Trade Academy Programme to upskill businesses on trade issues;
    • Reinstituted the Board of Trade and created a global network of Her Majesty's Trade Commissioners, each with responsibility for one of the nine global trade regions;
    • Set up 14 trade working groups with 21 countries including Canada, Mexico and South Korea (which he will visit this week);
    • Sent its Ministers on 208 visits overseas in support of exports and investment, and on trade reviews with India and Brazil.
     

Dominic Raab MP, Monday 1 October 2018

The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP, gave his speech to the Conservative Party Conference.

During the speech:

  • Raab opened with an appeal for tolerance in discussions on Brexit and criticised the tone of the debate on social media.

  • He described his approach to the Brexit negotiations as 'pragmatic and not dogmatic'. He argued that the government's proposals would deliver a historic agreement which provides a roadmap out of the EU, and which both manages the risks of Brexit and grasps the opportunities of it.

  • Raab said that the vast majority of the withdrawal agreement has been settled, apart from a few small, tricky points. He said that the government would secure a deal which protects our union.

  • He criticised the EU for not matching the UK's ambition, and for their one-sided approach to the negotiations. He said the EU was not allowing room for compromise and if the EU want a deal 'they need to get serious'.

  • He said that the UK's willingness to compromise is not without limit, and that if we can't achieve a deal, we will be left with no choice but to leave with no deal. He argued that the UK would not be bullied by threats of economic consequences.

  • He criticised 'establishment figures' trying to overturn the result of the referendum, and the Labour Party for opening the door for the UK to remain in the EU.

  • Raab said he was optimistic that history will judge Brexit as a 'springboard to a buccaneering global embrace of free trade'.

  • He criticised 'left-wing extremists' in the Labour Party, and the Labour Party's handling of antisemitism in the party.

Philip Hammond MP, Monday 1 October 2018

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, gave his speech to the Conservative Party Conference.

The speech sought to defend the government's record on the economy. Points raised in the speech included:

Brexit:

  • Hammond stated that post-Brexit, the UK would remain a close partner of the EU, highlighting our closeness both geographically and through our intertwining economies. He called for a continuation of 'friction-free access'.

  • He envisaged a comprehensive trading relationship with the EU post-Brexit and reaffirmed the government's commitment to the Chequers deal, calling for the Conservative Party to stand together behind Theresa May in her negotiations with the EU.

  • Hammond argued that Brexit had happened because of the widening gap between how a market economy operated in theory and in practice. He said that too many people felt they had lost control, experienced years of slow wage growth and felt a growing concern that they were falling behind.

  • Hammond stated that he would ensure the UK makes fiscal preparations for a no deal outcome, should such a situation arise, to support the UK economy. He predicted that there would be a 'Deal Dividend', a boost to the economy on leaving the EU.

Technology:

  • The Chancellor stated that although the UK should embrace the benefits of technological and digital change, it was important to recognise the uncertainty that these changes can cause for many working communities.

  • He argued that how the country manages technological transformation, rather than Brexit, will be defining for the future of our country and the Conservative Party.

  • As such, he stated that the Party must recognise the growing inequalities caused by globalisation. He particularly highlighted the uncertainty that driverless cars could cause to individuals working in the taxi industry.

  • He noted that new policy questions had emerged regarding the global power of large tech companies. He has commissioned an expert panel to review the UK competition regime to make it fit for the digital era.

  • He argued in favour of global tax reform to ensure that technology companies paid their fair share of tax, but if this did not come to fruition, the UK would pursue a digital services tax of its own.

David Gauke MP, Tuesday 2 October 2018

The Lord Chancellor, the Rt Hon David Gauke MP, gave his speech to the Conservative Party Conference.

His speech largely focused on prisons, reoffending and crime rates. He previewed his conference speech at our joint reception with the Society of Conservative Lawyers and Bar Council where he was the guest speaker.

He made no mention of access to justice, the LASPO review, court modernisation, criminal legal aid or the effect of Brexit on the legal sector.

During the speech:

  • Gauke described being Lord Chancellor as an honour and noted that he is the first solicitor to hold the role.

  • He described the UK as a country governed by the rule of law and which values its judiciary. He expressed gratitude to those who serve the justice system.

  • He said that 'we need offenders to make the right choice, to reject a life of criminality and take the opportunity to work, accept responsibility and be part of society. Reforming the way that we get offenders to do that is my mission, and what I hope defines me as Justice Secretary.'

  • He announced a new Financial Crime Unit to 'track and seize the money that criminal kingpins use to deal drugs in prison.' The government has since published more information on the Unit.

  • He announced that the government are spending £5m to introduce a 'Secure School' at Medway. Secure Schools are a new concept that places education and healthcare at the heart of youth custody.

Theresa May MP, Wednesday 3 October 2018

The Prime Minister Theresa May gave her keynote speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

The speech made no announcements on justice related issues. On Brexit, the Prime Minister re-affirmed her existing position.

Introduced by the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox QC MP, the Prime Minister spoke about a range of issues including:

Brexit

  • The Prime Minister said her job is to honour the result of the referendum.

  • She said that she is seeking a good trading and security relationship with our neighbours. She described Europe as our close friends and allies.

  • She said that nobody wants a good deal more than she does. She claimed that she isn't afraid to leave with no deal if we must, but that leaving without a deal and introducing tariffs and costly checks at borders would be a bad outcome for the UK and the EU.

  • She said that the government will never accept a deal that keeps us in the EU in all but name, or a deal that carves off Northern Ireland.

  • She criticised the proposal to hold a second referendum, saying the 'people had a people's vote, and the people chose to leave.'

  • The Prime Minister said that we are entering the toughest phase of the negotiation and called on the country and the Conservative Party to hold their nerve to come to a deal which delivers for Britain. She said that if we all go off in different directions in pursuit of our visions of the perfect Brexit, we risk ending up with no Brexit at all.

  • The Prime Minister also confirmed that in 2022 there will be a year-long Festival of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Immigration

  • The Prime Minister said that after Brexit the UK would have control of its borders, which would allow it to establish full and complete control over who entered the country.

  • She said her government will introduce a system based on what skills you have to offer rather than what country you came from.

Economy

  • On the economy, the Prime Minister said the Conservatives want to 'back businesses', and that Britain is 'open for business.'

  • She described the collapse of the banks in the financial crash a decade ago as a defining moment in politics.

  • She said austerity has been painful, that some communities feel left behind, and that the economy isn't working for them. She said that Labour's plans in response to this would cost £1 trillion.

  • She said that the end of austerity 'is in sight', and said that the Conservatives are 'not just a party to clean up the mess, [we] are the party to steer a course to a better future.'

  • At the spending review next year, she committed to continuing to reduce the debt, but pledged support for public services would go up, and declared that 'austerity is over.'

Other

  • The Prime Minister announced a new 'Cancer Strategy' to fight cancer and increase the early detection rate.

  • She announced a fundamental review of our railways and pledged to introduce auto-compensation for late or delayed trains.

  • Announced the cap on how much councils can borrow to build new housing will be scrapped.

  • She said that the words that she wants the Tories to stand for are 'security, freedom, and opportunity.' She said that with freedom comes responsibility to obey the law even if you disagree with it.

  • The Prime Minister announced that the freeze on fuel duty will continue at the Autumn Budget.

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

Tags: Theresa May | Westminster weekly update | Brexit | 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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