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Westminster weekly update: Release under investigation debated

10 February 2020

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

In January this year, we published a heat map showing the shortage of community care providers across the country. This followed on from the publication of our housing legal aid deserts map in April 2019.

Five things you need to know

1. The use of release under investigation debated

Last Wednesday, a Westminster Hall debate took place regarding the use of release under investigation (RUI).

Throughout the course of the debate we were name-checked six times, and our parliamentary briefing for the debate was quoted extensively.

Shadow justice minister Bambos Charalambous MP (Labour) opened the debate by describing the use of RUI as “a threat to both victims of crime and those who stand accused of committing them.” He noted the attention being given to the dangers of early release, and argued that the use of RUI poses just as many questions. He noted that with RUI there is no time limit and no conditions. He said that the use of police bail has dropped dramatically, and the use of RUI has increased exponentially. He argued that justice delayed becomes justice denied, and that RUI leads to delays. He cited case examples from us concerning the use of RUI in cases of rape. He noted the consultation and review of RUI and called for reform.

Shadow Home Office minister, Louise Haigh MP (Labour) responded to the debate and noted that between 2018 and 2019, there was a 540% increase in suspects of terrorism offences released under investigation. She noted that the three safeguards of bail are lost in RUI, safeguards for the suspect, for the victim, and for the public. She noted our briefing and that risk assessments are not being carried out across police forces and not applied consistently.

Home Office minister for crime, policing and the fire service Kit Malthouse MP (Conservative) recognised that there is a consensus that change is needed. He noted that the police often deal with complex cases and with more digital evidence than ever before. He gave background on why the bail reforms were introduced, but also on the unintended consequence in the significant rise in the number of people being released under investigation. He said the government have listened to the concerns, and on 5 November announced a review of pre-charge bail. The upcoming Royal Commission on the criminal justice process will also undertake a comprehensive review of the system and deliver practical recommendations.

Watch the debate

Read a transcript of the debate

2. Pre-charge bail consultation launched

In the wake of our criminal justice campaign work, the Home Office announced in November 2019 a review of the use of pre-charge bail and release under investigation. Further to that announcement, on Wednesday (5 February) the Home Office published a public consultation on pre-charge bail.

We previously published research on the police use of RUI and made recommendations for reform. Release under investigation (RUI) is used by the police instead of bail – but unlike bail it has no time limits or conditions. This can leave the accused and victims in limbo with no updates on their case for an unlimited time.

There also is evidence that there are people being released under investigation who are potentially a risk to victims of crime and the public in general, rather than being put on bail as would be more appropriate. This particularly impacts on victims, who may be targeted again by the same perpetrator.

Following the publication of the consultation, our head of justice Richard Miller said that “For the past year, we have warned of a major public scandal brewing - so proposals for reform of pre-charge bail and release under investigation are welcome. We look forward to contributing fully. “Reform to pre-charge bail, though necessary, is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. If we want swift, fair and efficient justice we must invest in every aspect of our ailing criminal justice system. Otherwise, more crime may fall through the cracks of investigation and prosecution.”

Read our response to the opening of the consultation

Read more about our criminal justice campaign

3. Divorce Bill sees second reading in the Lords

The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on Wednesday. Positively, we were mentioned ten times and there was expressions of support from the Lords for some of our suggested improvements to the Bill. Our parliamentary briefing was also referenced throughout the session.

Support was expressed for our improvements to the following aspects of the Bill:

  • a three month, litigation free, reflection period to be incorporated into the initial 20 week notice period
  • that the 20 week notice period should start when it has been established that the respondent has received service, rather than just when the applicant has started proceedings, so as not to disadvantage a respondent who may be unaware of proceedings having started. The minister noted that the government are open to discussion on how the question of the 20-week period should be approached
  • that the no final order should be made unless financial matters have been resolved in cases where the respondent may be disadvantaged
  • that the application fee of £550 should be reduced so as not to discriminate against those who might not be able to afford it
  • that there should be signposting to wider support, relationship support services, and to non-court-based dispute resolution services
  • that there should be sufficient advice and signposting for those undertaking online divorce petitions in relation to issues such as financial orders

Committee stage will begin on Tuesday 3 March.

Read the full transcript of the second reading

Read our Parliamentary briefing on the Bill

4. Justice priorities for the Parliament

Last Monday, Law Society president Simon Davis spoke at the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Legal Aid meeting. Chaired by Karen Buck MP (Labour), the meeting explored priorities for the justice sector for the Parliament, and alongside the President included a wide range of speakers including the chair of the Justice Sir Bob Neill MP (Conservative), former lord chancellor Lord Falconer. Justice spokespeople from Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green Party as well as representatives from Ministry of Justice, the Bar Council and other legal bodies.

During the course of the event, Lord Falconer described this as an important period of time for the justice sector. He noted cuts to the Ministry of Justice’s budget over the past decade, and highlighted concerning remarks reported from Downing Street, which had criticised “policy influenced by lawyers”. Sir Bob Neill MP also highlighted the historic cuts to the Ministry of Justice, and said that they cannot be expected to absorb any further cuts, and noted that recent reforms had led to injustice and inefficiency as a result of the lack of investment. Shadow Justice Minister, Bambos Charalambous MP spoke about the origins of legal aid and the need to provide for a system in which everyone can access justice effectively. He highlighted legal aid deserts and said that there was a need to ensure people across the country had access to justice. Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Daisy Cooper MP said that legal aid should be the NHS of our legal system an that a key priority for her in this parliament was on early legal advice which would save money in the long run and provide advice when it's most needed.

Law Society president Simon Davis spoke about the shortage of younger criminal defence solicitors and concerns regarding the sustainability of the system. He highlighted legal aid deserts and the need for action following the LASPO review a year ago.

Fiona Rutherford gave an update from the Ministry of Justice on the reviews they are undertaking, specifically on the criminal legal aid review, the means test review, progressing the Legal Support Action Plan and work to ensure that advocacy is improved for bereaved families at inquests. She thanked stakeholder groups for their constructive engagement.

5. Prime minister lays out vision for the future UK-EU relationship

This week prime minister Boris Johnson and EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier gave separate press conferences on their vision for a future EU-UK relationship. Johnson also published a written statement outlining the government’s proposed approach to future relationship negotiations.

Johnson reiterated the government’s desire to form a “future relationship based on friendly cooperation between equals.” He also confirmed that the government has no intention of deviating from its stated policy course of refusing to extend the current transition period beyond 31 December 2020. The written statement outlined the following priorities for the UK government:

  • Trade in services - Significant provisions on trade in services are an essential component of a comprehensive FTA. Accordingly, the Agreement should include measures to minimise barriers to the cross-border supply of services and investment, on the basis of each side’s commitments in existing FTAs. In areas of key interest, such as professional and business services, there may be scope to go beyond these commitments
  • Temporary Entry for Business Purposes (Mode 4) - As is normal in a Free Trade Agreement, the agreement should include significant reciprocal commitments on the temporary entry and stay of individuals, so that both EU and UK nationals can undertake short-term business trips to supply services. This is of course without prejudice to the future points-based immigration system
  • Regulatory Framework - There should be measures that reduce unnecessary barriers to trade in services, streamlining practical processes and providing for appropriate regulatory cooperation
  • Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications - The Agreement should provide a pathway for the mutual recognition of UK and EU qualifications, underpinned by regulatory cooperation, so that qualification requirements do not become an unnecessary barrier to trade
  • Internal Security Cooperation - It's in the UK’s and EU’s mutual interest to reach a pragmatic agreement to provide a framework for law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters between the UK and the EU, delivering strong operational capabilities that help protect the public. The detail of such an agreement must be consistent with the government’s position that the CJEU and the EU legal order must not constrain the autonomy of the UK's legal system in any way

Read Johnson’s speech

Read Johnson’s written statement

Read Barnier’s speech

Coming up this week

Coming up in Parliament, next week will see oral questions to the Home Office, HM Treasury, the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport and the Attorney General in the House of Commons.

In the House of Lords, Monday will see a Grand Committee meeting on the Draft Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 Order 2019. On Tuesday, there will be a short debate on decision-making and prediction by algorithms in the public sector.

Parliament will break for a recess on Thursday, returning Monday 24 February. It's widely predicted that a Cabinet reshuffle will take place before this.

View the upcoming parliamentary business

If you made it this far

Read our guidance explaining how the transition period in the UK-EU relationship, beginning 1 February, will affect various areas of law.

Tags: Westminster weekly update | Brexit

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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