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Westminster weekly update: Prorogation void, parliament return

30 September 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 our new report, 'Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law', which explores the increasing use of innovation and technology to facilitate access to justice.

Five things you need to know

1. Prorogation void, parliament returns

Last Tuesday (24 September) the Supreme Court unanimously ruled the prorogation of parliament “unlawful, void and of no effect.”

Following the judgment, it was left to the speakers of the House of Commons and the House of Lords to confirm when each House will next sit.

Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow said that “the House of Commons must convene without delay,” and following consultation with party leaders confirmed that the House of Commons should resume on Wednesday 25 September.

As prorogation was deemed void, all legislation and orders before parliament have resumed progress at the stage which they had been at before the prorogation. This includes the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill, and the Divorce, Dissolution, and Separation Bill - as well as secondary legislation such as the statutory instrument on probate fees.

Read our reaction to the case

Read the full Supreme Court judgment

2. Attorney general discusses Supreme Court ruling in parliament

Responding to an urgent question posed by Joanna Cherry QC MP (SNP) in parliament last Wednesday regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling on prorogation, attorney general Geoffrey Cox QC MP said: “The government acted in good faith and in the belief that their approach was both lawful and constitutional,” and that while the government was “disappointed,” it respected the Supreme Court’s judgment as the “definitive and final legal position” on the matter.

Cox made several key statements on topics including the independence of the judiciary, scrutiny of judgments and judicial appointments, precedent set by the ruling and the role of convention and legal professional privilege.

He reaffirmed the independence and impartiality of the judges and the important democratic function they fulfill as "protectors of all our freedoms and all our rights.” However he noted that the "judges do not exist immune from criticism," and that although he was “not enthusiastic about [it]," there could be a need for "parliamentary scrutiny of judicial appointments in some manner."

Speaking about the judgment, Cox said: “It is a new principle of law, which has been found to exist by the Supreme Court, and where, hitherto, it has not been thought that a court could go. However, the Court is entitled to develop the common law, and that it has done. This does set a precedent; it is binding, unless this House, in due course, considers that it should take action to alter that position.”

Several MPs, including Joanna Cherry, Bob Neill and Nick Thomas-Symonds, called for the attorney general to publish the legal advice he gave to the government on the matter of prorogation.Cox refused to disclose this advice on the grounds of convention, however noted that the matter was under consideration. He also cited privilege when declining to answer other questions from MPs regarding the government's decision not to file a witness statement, and any legal advice he has offered regarding compliance with the Benn Bill.

Read a full transcript of the session

3. Shadow chancellor affirms importance of the rule of law and Labour makes justice announcements

Speaking at the Labour Party Conference last Monday, shadow chancellor John McDonnell MP affirmed the importance of maintaining the integrity of democratic institutions, stating:“We have entered a period of profound insecurity and risk to our democratic system… [There are] politicians who attack the very institutions and practices, no matter how flawed, that protect and uphold our democracy. Parliament, the courts and the rule of law.”

Last Sunday, shadow lord chancellor Richard Burgon MP announced that the Labour Party would establish a “root and branch review” of the Legal Aid Agency. The announcement was made for the first time during a fringe event hosted by the Society of Labour Lawyers and sponsored by the Law Society on the rule of law.

In a conference speech earlier last Sunday, Burgon also made several new policy pledges, stating that a future Labour government would:

  • restore funding to legal aid for all forms of early legal advice. This expands on their previous policy of early legal advice for housing, family and welfare benefits to also bring into scope immigration, employment, debt and mental health cases. The Law Society’s campaign and evidence on early advice was mentioned in the notes to editors
  • provide £20 million to fund a new series of community-run People’s Law Centres
  • fund training contracts for 200 social welfare lawyers under a new Community Lawyer Initiative
  • establish a constitutional convention to assess how access to justice could be made a constitutional right of every UK citizen – as per a recommendation made in the Bach Review
  • launch an independent review into the current way rape is addressed within the justice system
  • deliver a public accountability law, requiring public entities to disclose wrongdoing and failure

Read the shadow chancellor's full speech

Read the shadow lord chancellor's full speech

4. Our Labour Party Conference programme

Last weekend (22-24 September) vice president David Greene attended the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. While there David spoke at several fringe events, including a:

  • panel with the Shadow legal frontbench, hosted by the Society of Labour Lawyers, on the rule of law and the criminal justice system
  • Labour City Lawyers fringe event on Brexit and financial services, alongside panel members that included chair of the Exiting the EU Select Committee Hilary Benn MP and shadow economic secretary to the Treasury Jonathan Reynolds MP
  • panel hosted in conjunction with the Society of Labour Lawyers, JUSTICE and the Bar Council, on diversity in the law
  • panel hosted in conjunction with the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and Young Legal Aid Lawyers on access to justice, alongside shadow attorney general Baronness Chakrabarti and shadow lord chancellor Richard Burgon MP

The Law Society also hosted a dinner for legally qualified parliamentarians. The dinner provided an opportunity to discuss some of our key priorities for law and justice and was attended by members of the shadow legal frontbench, the Bar Council and the Justice Select Committee.

See our full programme

See our conference publication, ‘Our vision for law and justice’

5. Our Liberal Democrat Party Conference programme

Last Monday deputy vice president Stephanie Boyce attended the Liberal Democrat Party Conference in Bournemouth. While there, Stephanie:

  • spoke at a fringe event we hosted alongside the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association on access to justice and lawtech
  • met with Liberal Democrat Justice and Home Affairs Adviser Jonathan Jones
  • attended a City of London Corporation dinner
  • met with the president of Bournemouth Law Society

The fringe saw Stephanie promote the Law Society’s ‘Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law’ report, which was also referenced by James Sandbach of LawWorks. She made a point which was echoed by all panel members and the audience throughout the discussion – that lawtech should be a supplement to face-to-face legal advice from a qualified lawyer, not a replacement to it, and that it is not the silver bullet to issues caused by underfunding. That said, she acknowledged the positive impact lawtech can have, if organisations within the legal sector pool resources and co-operate.

Other panel members included Lord Marks, the Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson, and Ruth Daniels, CEO of the Access to Justice Foundation. The event was attended by about 35 Liberal Democrat members and observers, including Lord Roger Roberts and representatives from the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

See our full programme

See our conference publication, ‘Our vision for law and justice’

Read our report on Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law

Coming up this week

The Conservative Party Conference takes place in Manchester over the weekend (29 September to 2 October) and the opening of the Legal Year on Tuesday (1 October).

In the House of Commons, a second reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill, as well as debates on the spending of the Ministry of Justice and progress on leasehold reform, are scheduled for Wednesday.

In the House of Lords, also scheduled for Wednesday are an oral questions session regarding the regulation of facial recognition technology, and a debate on the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

If you made it this far

Read Law Society president Simon Davis' response to the Supreme Court ruling on prorogation, in which he describes the ruling as a "vital expression of the checks and balances that exist in our democracy."

Read the full press release


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

Tags: Westminster weekly update | Parliament | Conservatives | Labour | Liberal Democrats | party conferences

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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