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Westminster weekly update: Secretary of State backs Global Legal Centre campaign

30 November 2018

On Monday the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt MP, backed our global legal centre campaign, which promotes the benefits of English law, courts and legal profession.


This took place at a parliamentary reception attended by MPs, government officials, representatives from City firms and members of our committees and council. Read our new campaign leaflet (PDF 823kb).

Last weekend the European Council officially concluded Article 50 negotiations with an endorsement of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration at an extraordinary Council meeting in Brussels. Read our summary of the Political Declaration.

The European Council invited the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council to take the necessary steps to ensure that the agreement can enter into force on 30 March 2019, thereby initiating the ratification process. Parliament will get the opportunity to cast its meaningful vote on the Prime Minister's deal on 11 December.

Last week saw a Westminster Hall debate on the provision of legal services after the UK leaves the EU. The debate was called by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which the Law Society provides the secretariat for. The report, 'the effect of Brexit on legal services' (PDF 357kb), was published last month. The Law Society was mentioned 7 times during the debate, and the APPG was mentioned 11 times. Both the APPG's report, and our parliamentary briefing were extensively quoted from.

Also last week the Lord Chief Justice gave evidence before the Justice Select Committee. The Rt Hon the Lord Burnett of Maldon raised concerns around the need to modernise the court system; the recruitment and retention of new judges, particularly at senior levels; and the low morale of the judiciary as a whole.

Last week the Civil Liability Bill cleared its final hurdle of parliamentary scrutiny.

On Wednesday this week the Law Society's Head of Justice Richard Miller gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee on enforcing the Equality Act. On Tuesday the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill also received its second reading in the House of Commons. The Law Society briefed ahead of the debate, and we were mentioned 11 times, including a direct mention of our president Christina Blacklaws and our work on LawTech by the Lord Chancellor.

This week in Parliament

Monday 26 November

House of Lords

  • Oral question - Requiring organisations to produce action plans to respond to their gender pay gap reports

Tuesday 27 November

House of Commons

  • Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill; 2nd Reading
  • Foreign Affairs Select Committee evidence session on Global Britain and India
  • Home Affairs Select Committee oral evidence session on the work of the Home Secretary

House of Lords

  • Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill; Report Stage (day 2)
  • Bribery Act 2010 committee evidence session

Wednesday 28 November

House of Commons

  • Law Society's Head of Justice, Richard Miller giving evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee evidence session on enforcing the Equality Act
  • International Trade Committee evidence session on the impact of UK-EI arrangements on wider trade policy with George Hollingbery MP
  • Exiting the EU Committee evidence session on the progress of the UK's negotiations on EU withdrawal

House of Lords

  • Oral question - circumstances under which a no-deal EU withdrawal would be the government's preferred outcome (Lord Strasburger)
  • EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee evidence session on the UK-EU security relationship during transition

Thursday 29 November

House of Commons

  • Liaison Committee with the Prime Minister on Brexit

Last week in Parliament

Tuesday 20 November

House of Commons

Lord Chief Justice gives evidence before Justice Select Committee

The Lord Chief Justice, the Rt Hon the Lord Burnett of Maldon, gave evidence before the Justice Select Committee.

During his evidence session he raised concerns in three main areas:

  • Need to modernise our court system;
  • Recruitment and retention of new judges, particularly at senior levels;
  • Low morale of the judiciary as a whole.

In a wide-ranging session, he covered and commented on a number of issues, and his comments are summarised below:

Maintenance of the court estate

  • The Lord Chief Justice raised concerns on the court estate and the poor maintenance of the estate. He noted instances of roofs leaking, broken heating and broken lifts across many buildings.
  • He argued that underfunding of the court estate has led to the current situation. He said that it would require 'a substantial injection of funds' to bring our courts up to standard after 'a decade of neglect.' He called for significant further investment as part of the upcoming spending review.
  • He welcomed that the Ministry of Justice made available £7 million to deal with some urgent areas of maintenance and noted that a further £15 million was made available through the budget, £12 million of which is for repairs and maintenance in the courts estate.

Court modernisation

  • He spoke about the court modernisation and digitization programme, which will result in savings which can be reinvested in other areas. He welcomed and gave examples of where court modernisation could help improve access to justice.
  • He argued that it is 'completely unreasonable' to expect members of the public and the legal sector to use court buildings that are 'quite frankly an embarrassment.'

Litigants-in-person

  • On increasing numbers of litigants-in-person, the Lord Chief Justice said that it places an increased burden on the courts.

Judiciary

  • The Lord Chief Justice noted the lack of diversity in the judiciary. He was hesitant to commit to targets to improve this diversity and said that it is the process which should be improved.
  • He raised concerns about the recruitment and retention of judges.
  • He spoke about judges feeling unvalued by government. In his annual report it showed that only 2 per cent of judges feel valued by government.

Family courts

  • He explained that delays in the family courts were caused by the rising amount of cases, the number of cases which could be resolved elsewhere through mediation or not brought at all, and the lack of judges.

Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry on Global Britain and India

The Foreign Affairs Committee took evidence to its inquiry on Global Britain and India.

The Committee heard from:

  • Shishir Bajoria, Chairman, Bajoria Group
  • Lord Bilimoria CBE DL, Founder and Chairman, Cobra Beer
  • Dan Mobley, Global Corporate Relations Director, Diageo;
  • Devie Mohan, Co-founder and CEO, Burnmark.

In the session, former International Development Secretary Priti Patel MP asked if it was wise for the UK government to continue to spend money on bilateral aid to India, or if it was 'better off trying to provide our expertise across key sectors – for example, the legal sector, trying to get the economy to liberalise or open up key markets, or even for courts and arbitration.' In response, Lord Bilimoria said that the UK's counterparts in India did not see this as aid but rather partnering in development.

Ms Patel pressed further, asking about liberalisation and the UK's pioneering in key service sectors. Lord Bilimoria said there were barriers despite the UK trying to liberalise legal services over time, for example the Indian National Bar Association blocking this despite law Ministers agreeing with the principle. He added that liberalisation in India was only just happening after more than 10 years of persistence in this area.

House of Lords

Civil Liability Bill [HL]

On Tuesday the Civil Liability Bill cleared its final hurdle after the House of Lords considered Commons amendments.

The Bill will now proceed to Royal Assent, and we will write to the Ministry of Justice to offer to assist in the preparations of the regulations that come out of the Bill.

During the debate, Peers agreed to all of the amendments made during the Commons.

Read the full transcript of the debate.

Wednesday 21 November

House of Commons

Debate on the effect of Brexit on legal services

A debate was held in Westminster Hall on legal services and leaving the EU.

The Law Society requested a debate on the report we helped to produce as the secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. The report, 'the effect of Brexit on legal services', was published last month.

The Law Society was mentioned 7 times during the debate, and the APPG was mentioned 11 times. Both the APPG's report, and our parliamentary briefing were extensively quoted from.

Read the full transcript of the debate, and a short summary is included below:

Moving the debate

  • Moving the debate, Jonathan Djanogly MP (Conservative and Chair of the APPG on Legal and Constitutional Affairs) noted that the APPG had published the report and thanked the Law Society as the secretariat for its assistance in producing the report.

  • He noted that the UK legal services sector is a success story, and that it contributed a significant amount to the wider economy.

  • He outlined concerns of the legal services sector on the government's current approach and whether it will deliver sustainable market access for legal services.

  • He noted that unlike financial services, there is no in-depth common rulebook or Europe-wide regulator in legal services, and that legal services remain regulated autonomously by each EU member state, while functioning on the principle that an EU law firm should be treated as equal to domestic lawyers and firms.

  • He said that legal services and services in general have not been given the same attention as manufactured goods have during the Brexit process.

  • He outlined the findings of the report, and the 10 recommendations it made.

Minister's response

  • At the conclusion of the debate, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Lucy Frazer QC MP welcomed the report from the APPG. She noted the contribution of the sector to the UK economy. She highlighted that English law is the most widely used in the world and said that international firms want to operate in this country. She agreed with the report that 'Brexit will be the largest ever change to the UK's legal framework and it presents both opportunities and risks for the legal sector.'

  • She noted that during the transitional period, market access will remain the same. The draft withdrawal agreement provides that, during the implementation period, EU and UK professionals working in the UK or EU will continue to have their professional qualifications recognised.

  • She said that 'in a no-deal scenario, there will be no basis for reciprocity—registered European lawyer status, which allows European economic area lawyers to practice permanently in the UK under their home title, will be phased out after exit. New entrants will be able to seek recognition of their qualifications and be admitted to the UK profession in the same way as third-country lawyers. There will be a transitional framework until 31 December 2020 for EEA lawyers and business owners to transfer their qualifications or adapt their business model.'

  • She said that beyond negotiating with the EU, the government is working with the sector to 'ensure the continued pre-eminence of UK legal services and English law.'

Further contributions

  • Chair of the Justice Select Committee, Bob Neill MP (Conservative) welcomed the APPGs report, and noted the report of the Justice Select Committee and their report on the implications of Brexit for the justice system. He said that the two reports are consistent. He highlighted the mutual enforceability of judgments in family law cases across the EU. He raised concerns about the uncertainty of Brexit and the potential of a no deal scenario and the impact that it is having on the legal sector. He said he will back the withdrawal agreement as it will move us into the transitional period. He shared his hope that the political declaration will make specific reference to legal services.

  • Shadow Justice Minister, Yasmin Qureshi MP (Labour) welcomed the report and the opportunity to debate it. She noted that Brexit will be the largest ever change to the UK's legal framework. She said that regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, we need to ensure that citizens and businesses in the UK continue to have certainty about access to justice in civil, commercial, consumer and family law matters. She criticised the withdrawal agreement and outline political declaration for failing to provide the detail that the sector requires.

  • Gavin Newlands MP (SNP) noted that Brexit has the capacity to complicate and disrupt every aspect of our lives, and throughout legal services. He raised concerns about a 'blindfold Brexit', in which the UK has no clarity on what future arrangements will look like. He echoed concerns raised about the mutual recognition and reciprocal arrangements for professional qualifications, the lawyers service directive and the lawyer's establishment directive.

  • John Howell MP (Conservative) spoke about international arbitration and alternative dispute resolution. He highlighted the commercial solutions being developed in Singapore for arbitration courts.

Exiting the EU Committee session on the progress of the Brexit negotiations

The Exiting the EU Committee took evidence to its inquiry on the progress of the UK's negotiations on EU withdrawal.

The Committee heard from:

  • Agata Gostynska-Jakubowska, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for European Reform
  • Professor Franklin Dehousse, former Judge at the General Court of the European Union
  • Dr Holger Hestermeyer, Shell Reader in International Dispute Resolution, King's College London.
  • In response to Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse on the details and specifics in the Political Declaration, Dr Hestermeyer said there was a commitment towards simplifying trade which both sides would be held to by MEPs. Using the example of the 'appropriate arrangements on professional qualifications' commitments in the Declaration not being delivered on, Dr Hestermeyer described the likely thought process of MEPs:

    'Then what exactly will be in there? Will this just be limited to lawyers? That would make me happy, but perhaps not many other people. Will it also stretch to other professions? Which professions will be covered and how will this be done? That is difficult to gauge at the moment. Hence it is difficult to say what the value of this will be but, if there is nothing in there, MEPs will be unhappy and say it goes against the declaration.'

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

Tags: Law Society | Westminster weekly update | 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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