Another busy week in Westminster, with more hot policy areas of the Law Society coming through parliament and closely monitored by the Public Affairs team. This week, Chinese Premiere, Xi Jinping, made a four day state visit to the UK. Although some human rights campaigners have criticised the visit, Mr Jinping commented "There is always room for improvement in the world. China is ready to increase co-operation with UK and other countries over human rights." The UK has secured up to £30 billion worth of investment from China.
Ahead of the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill due to be published in the next several weeks, the Law Society, in conjunction with the Bar Council, the Faculty of Advocates and the Bar of Northern Ireland, has released a position paper pertaining to the legal professions concerns on the protection of legal professional privilege. Circulated to the legal press and all legally trained parliamentarians, the paper, uniting the voices of the various legal associations in the United Kingdom, outlines the importance of the protection communications between clients and their lawyers, as well as the associated metadata, must be protected from surveillance carried out by public authorities, including the intelligence and security services. President Jonathan Smithers said of the report "Legal professional privilege protects a client's fundamental right to be candid with their legal adviser without fear that someone is listening in or that what they say will be disclosed to their prejudice. The government now has the opportunity to debate legislation that gives statutory protection to the client-lawyer relationships that a civilised society depends on, while including safeguards against abuse for criminal purposes."
According to a report in The Times published on Thursday, the lord chancellor has mooted the intention of enforcing a compulsory tax on City law firms to raise millions of pounds for the justice system in a deal with the Treasury. In an effort to reverse the criminal court charge brought in by his predecessor Chris Grayling, Mr Gove seems to be inclined to impose a one per cent taxation on the turnover of the top 100 institutions. While the court charge is expected to pull in between £65 million and £90 million annually, the levy on City firms would boost the Treasury's revenue by £190 million.
Further pressure to review the criminal court charge came last week from the House of Lords following the motion of regret debate tabled by shadow justice minister Lord Beecham, with peers voting 132 to 100 to oppose it.
While the House of Lords debated the European Union Referendum Bill in its second reading, the Law Society published its own report, opening the discussion about the future of the legal sector in Europe. Aimed to allow solicitor members the opportunity to assess what impact a 'Brexit' would have on their own area of legal practice, and indeed on their firm, The Future of Britain in Europe has been circulated to key stakeholders in the EU debate, including officials at the European Union, the 59 British MEPs, and others closely involved in this contentious debate.
Monday 19 October
MPs debate the Wilson Doctrine
In an emergency debate held in the House of Commons lead by Chris Bryant MP, MPs discussed the concerns around the exercise of communications interception powers by intelligence agencies. Responding to the debate, home secretary Theresa May pointed out that this policy - declaring that MPs should not have their communications intercepted in a targeted manner - continues to apply.
Read the full transcript
Tuesday 20 October
Public Bill Committee oral evidence session on the Immigration Bill
The Immigration Bill has progressed to Committee stage in the House of Commons, and held its first oral evidence session, with witnesses across sectors including business, the third sector, housing associations and lobbying groups. The Law Society is preparing written evidence to submit to the Committee.
Read the transcript for the morning session
Read the transcript for the afternoon session
MPs debate an e-petition on immigration
The government rejected the e-petition on immigration. However, it confirmed that it would continue to establish a balanced immigration system. Responding to a debate on immigration in response to an e-petition entitled "Stop allowing immigrants into the UK", started on 25 August 2015, the minister responsible for Syrian refugees Richard Harrington welcomed the comments from the members of the House, noting that "every single person who has spoken, without exception, has rejected the petition's wording". He added that the government "totally disagree with the sentiments of the petition", and stressed the UK, was without doubt, a "multiracial democracy".
Read the full transcript
EU Justice Sub-Committee - House of Lords Sub-Committee takes evidence from academics for new inquiry
The EU Justice Sub-Committee launched a new inquiry into the impact on EU law of a UK decision to repeal the Human Rights Act, by speaking to academic experts from the University of Essex, Oxford University and Edinburgh Law School. Evidence was given by Professor Steve Peers, Professor of European Union Law and Human Rights Law, University of Essex; Professor Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Professor of European and Human Rights Law, University of Oxford; and Dr Tobias Lock, Lecturer in EU Law, School of Law, University of Edinburgh.
Read the transcript of the oral evidence
Shadow solicitor general Karl Turner says that the government has made a complete mess of legal aid duty contacts procurement
In response to complaints that the procurement process for legal aid duty contracts has been mishandled, shadow solicitor general Karl Turner MP said: "The government has made a complete mess of this procurement process. Reports that bids were handled by inexperienced, temporary staff and that staff were put under undue pressure are deeply worrying. Labour, practitioners and experts warned from the start that this was a flawed policy but Ministers pushed ahead regardless."
Read the Labour Party press release
Wednesday 21 October
Home Affairs Committee - Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) - immigration and skills shortages
During a hearing on immigration and skills shortages, the Home Affairs Committee heard from:
- Professor Sir David Metcalf CBE, chair, Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)
- Tim Harrison, head of secretariat, Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)
Opening the session, Labour Committee chair Keith Vaz MP asked about the addition of nurses to the shortages list. Professor Sir David said he was pleased that the MAC had been asked to look at this issue. He added there were other issues relating to retention and family friendly policies.
Find out more about the inquiry
Thursday 22 October
Legal professional privilege - Law Society and Bar Council statement of position
Ahead of the looming Investigatory Powers Bill, the Law Society, in conjunction with the Bar Council and supported by the Faculty of Advocates and Northern Ireland Bar, have produced and published a position paper on legal professional privilege. The statutory protection of legally privileged communications between lawyers and their clients, our organisations believe, should be high on the agenda when parliament debates major new surveillance legislation next month.
Read the report