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Vexatious claims and Brexit debates

31 October 2016

Alexandra Cardenas takes a look at the discussions in parliament focusing debates on Brexit and legislative scrutiny of bills in both houses.

This week discussions in parliament continued to focus on a number of oral questions and debates on Brexit and legislative scrutiny of bills in both houses.

Lord Beecham asked an oral question on the review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. It was debated the same day that House of Lords justice spokesperson Lord Keen led the motion to approve the Civil Legal Aid (Amendment) Regulations 2016. Two members of the Law Society Intellectual Property Committee gave evidence to a Special Public Bill Committee on the Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill. Additionally, the Homelessness Reduction Bill was discussed and we briefed parliamentarians ahead of the debate.

International trade secretary, Rt Hon Liam Fox MP and Brexit minister, Rt Hon David Jones MP both gave oral evidence to the EU scrutiny committee on Brexit. Helen Ball, deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, gave evidence to the EU home affairs sub-committee on Brexit: future UK-EU security and policing co-operation. Also, the head of the Law Society's Brussels offices, Mickael Laurens, presented evidence in the House of Lords EU committee on internal markets.

On another note, our deputy vice president, Christina Blacklaws, spoke at the swearing-in ceremony of the chancellor of the High Court. Her speech is available here and received positive feedback from the senior judiciary, including Lord Neuberger.

Monday 24 October


House of Lords

Oral question - vexatious claims

The following question was debated on the floor of the House by Lord Touhig (Labour).

'To ask Her Majesty's government what steps they are taking to prevent vexatious law suits being brought against British servicemen.'

Responding, Earl Howe, minister for defence, confirmed that the government would derogate from ECHR if considered appropriate in future conflicts (this is the current position under ECHR).

The Earl Howe also said that one remedy the government was considering was reinstating Section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 (Crown Immunity This would significantly curtail not just vexatious or spurious litigation, but all claims by both soldiers and civilians in all jurisdictions while on duty. (For example, it would likely prevent duty of care claims by soldiers and their families affected by inadequate equipment provided to troops). No immediate plans are in place for this, but it is being considered.

The transcript is available here.

Oral question - Brexit: single market

The following question was debated on the floor of the house by Baroness Ludford (Lib Dem).

To ask Her Majesty's government how they intend to fulfil the pledge in the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto to 'safeguard British interests in the single market.'

Lord Bridges of Headley, Lords Brexit minister, responded by saying that the British government is working to seek the best deal for British business, as well as maximum access and freedom to trade with and operate in the single market. He went on state that his department is analysing the entire UK economy, looking in detail at over 50 sectors and cross-cutting regulatory issues to understand the key factors for business and the labour force.

Baroness Ludford retorted by asking why the Conservative government's reneging on its manifesto promise on staying in the single market is not a cause for concern, and that this would be a huge blow to the UK's economic prospects if there isn't a coherent objective to keep all parts of the UK and all sectors of the economy in the single market.

The transcript is available here.

Tuesday 25 October


House of Lords

Oral question - Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act

On the same day that Lord Keen led the motion to approve the Civil Legal Aid (Merits Criteria) (Amendment) Regulations 2016, the following question was debated on the floor of the house by Lord Beecham (Labour)

To ask Her Majesty's government whether they have commenced a review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012; and, if so, when they anticipate that the review will be published.

Responding, Lord Keen of Elie said that the 2010 - 2015 coalition government promised to review Parts 1 and 2 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 within three to five years of its implementation. He then stated that the current government remains committed to undertaking that review, but the precise timing is under consideration and it will announce its intentions shortly.

Lord Beecham countered this by stating that is has been four and a half years since royal assent and is therefore disappointing that the government have not yet decided when to carry out this commitment. He cited an example of the problems that have arisen as a result of the narrowing of the field in which legal aid applies, and asked if Lord Keen could confirm that the government will be open to reviewing such areas where legal aid has been withdrawn.

The transcript is available here.

Wednesday 26 October


House of Commons

European scrutiny committee - secretary of state for international trade

The European scrutiny committee held a one-off session with the international trade secretary, shortly after the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) trade deal was rejected by the parliament of Wallonia.

The committee was exploring why the government did not give MPs the chance to debate CETA, as well as parliament's broader role on scrutinising trade deals.

Key points

On parliamentary scrutiny, the minister defended the government's decision not to allow parliament an opportunity to scrutinise the deal, saying this would have delayed implementation. He committed to having a future debate on CETA on the floor of the house, possibly in November. The minister added that parliament can still choose to reject CETA as a whole, and that certain provisions are under member states' competence. The minister also said portfolio investment and aspects of sustainable development are not being provisionally applied and will need to go through the full ratification process.

  • On existing mixed agreements, the minister said there is legal uncertainty around whether the UK would need to continue these after leaving the EU. He said he would write to the committee with more information.
  • On the investment court system, the minister said these powers would not apply in Britain, and that the UK government has the right to ratify it. Later in the session, Fox said that in time the UK might sign up to the CETA under a future trade deal with Canada, with regard to the reservations already expressed. There would need to be some form of arbitration, he added.
  • On future parliamentary scrutiny of trade negotiations, the minister said the UK is entering a new period in which parliament would scrutinise deals. He said the 'Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership reading room' was a good precedent, and he wants to see it used for future trade agreements.
  • On trade deals, the minister noted that NAFTA was agreed in 14 months, and CETA highlighted the difficulty of agreeing a trade deal with a large number of partners. He said that although the UK is not able to hold trade negotiations while in the EU, it is possible to have conversations with other countries and the WTO. Fox intimated that he thinks the EU will, in future, want to reserve more competencies in trade deals to the EU, after Wallonia blocked the deal.

Thursday 27 October

Nothing to report.

Friday 28 October

Nothing to report.

Tags: politics | 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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