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Labour's reshuffle reignited

15 January 2016

Richard Messingham considers Catherine McKinnell MP's resignation, and the continuing campaign to leave the EU.

Political headlines have hardly shifted from last week, as Labour's frontbench reshuffle and the consequences of David Cameron's decision to allow cabinet ministers to campaign to leave the EU have continued to dominate.

The Labour team's reshuffle has been reignited by the resignation of Catherine McKinnell MP as shadow attorney general, due to family reasons and internal conflicts within the party. This has triggered further restructuring of the shadow team, with Karl Turner MP and former solicitor Jo Stevens MP being appointed as shadow attorney general and shadow solicitor general respectively. Former barrister Christina Rees MP has been appointed to shadow Shailesh Vara MP on courts and legal aid. 

On the European front, Cameron's decision to free cabinet ministers from campaigning to stay in the EU, should they not be convinced by the renegotiation's outcome, has prompted leader of the House of Commons and former justice secretary of state Chris Grayling MP, a well-know Eurosceptic, to warn that membership in its current status is "disastrous" for Britain. While Number 10 has assured that the news about Grayling's carefully worded dissent with the prime minister does not represent an issue, the government has swiftly reacted with George Osborne rebranding himself as a "Eurosceptic" who wants to change the existing membership arrangements.

The Lord Chief Justice published his 2015 report to parliament. He warned that civil justice is becoming unaffordable for most people with a consequent increase of litigants in person for whom our current court system is not really designed. 

Other highlights of the week include the launch of a market study to examine the affordability of legal services by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), and home secretary Theresa May giving evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, where she was asked about the protection of legal professional privilege (LPP).

Monday 11 January

UK parliament: new appointments to the Shadow Cabinet and Justice team 

Catherine McKinnell MP, former employment solicitor at Dickinson Dees in Newcastle, announced her resignation as Shadow Attorney General, due to family reasons and the direction of the party. She has been replaced by Karl Turner MP, who has been promoted from Shadow Solicitor General and will now attend the Shadow Cabinet. Karl Turner is a former practising criminal barrister and the Law Society has met with him a number of times. Former solicitor Jo Stevens, who was appointed Shadow Prisons Minister only last week, has been given the additional role of Shadow Solicitor General replacing Turner. Also as part of the reshuffle, Christina Rees MP, a former barrister and magistrate, has been appointed as Shadow Legal Aid and Courts Minister, creating a new position that will shadow Shailesh Vara MP. 

House of Commons - written answers: clinical negligence 

The parliamentary questions on clinical negligence tabled by Labour MP Robert Flello have now been answered. Flello asked which groups were consulted in preparation of the equality impact assessment for the introduction of fixed recoverable costs in medical negligence cases. In his response, Quality Care Minister Ben Gummer MP has said that the Department of Health has established a working group to look at the impact of the proposal on clinical negligence. The membership of this group has not been finalised yet and we are liaising with the minister's office to find out more about it.

Read the questions and answers in full 

Tuesday 12 January

Nothing to report

Wednesday 13 January

The Lord Chief Justice submitted his 2015 report to parliament. 

Main points: 

• The £738 million investment to modernise the courts and tribunals is welcomed 

• A note of caution must be sounded about the effect of the delay in resolving the remaining issues in relation to legal aid 

• The impact of these fee increases is still being assessed by the Ministry of Justice but the judiciary, while accepting the decisions by parliament to increase fees, remains deeply concerned about the effect on access to justice

 • There is a need to explain publicly the importance of the judicial system in maintaining a just and fair society, accountable and democratic government and a strong economy 

• The justice system has become unaffordable to most. He notes that this has led to a considerable increase of litigants of which are current court system is not really designed 

• Although in common with many other European states the number of court buildings has been reduced through closure, the failure to invest has meant that many of the courtrooms have not been modernised and lack modern means of communication to provide for better access to justice 

• Outdated IT systems severely impede the delivery of justice. For example, the reforms to civil justice which were intended to implement the report of Lord Woolf were introduced in April 1999 only on the promise of modern IT; none was ever provided 

• No satisfactory means of funding the provision of our system of justice has yet been achieved 

• The judiciary has continued to maintain its strong relationships with the Bar Council, the Law Society and CILEx, as well as the Young Bar and the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society. 

Responding to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Falconer, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, said: "Lord Thomas is absolutely right - under this government, access to justice is out of reach for all but the most wealthy. Access to legal help and advice is a cornerstone of the rule of law and the mark of a decent society. It is high time ministers woke up to this issue, starting with bringing forward the review of the impacts of their reforms."

Read the report in full (PDF)

UK parliament: home secretary on legal professional privilege

Home Secretary Theresa May gave evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill. 

Former solicitor Lord Hart of Chilton (Labour) asked May about the protection of legal professional privilege (LPP), and the reason why it was not protected on the face of the Bill. In her response, May said that the agencies should have the power to enforce the law where necessary. 

Lord Hart asked whether she was aware of any evidence demonstrating the necessity to give the agencies such powers. May pointed out that there are circumstances where people who are legally qualified may exploit the privilege, and these powers could help identify "naughty lawyers". 

We will circulate the transcript as soon as it is available.

House of Commons - written answers: clinical negligence 

The parliamentary questions on clinical negligence tabled by Sir Edward Garnier MP have been answered. The questions asked what assessment has been made of the implications of the proposal to introduce fixed recoverable costs in clinical negligence cases. The Law Society helped drafting these questions after a meeting between Sir Edward and some members in Leicester. 

Quality Care Minister Ben Gummer MP reiterated the official line already expressed by the Department of Health, in particular that: 

• Several respondents to the pre-consultation would agree that there is no exact correlation between value and complexity of clinical negligence claims

• One objective of the proposed fixed recoverable cost (FRC) regime is to improve the relationship between recoverable costs and damages paid

• The government will not delay the consultation whilst a review of LASPO takes place

• The planned consultation on the introduction of fixed recoverable costs is also looking to streamlining claims for clinical negligence

Read the questions and answers in full 

Personal injury: insurance 

The parliamentary questions on personal injury claims tabled by Shadow Justice Minister and former criminal and civil law barrister Andy Slaughter MP have been answered. He asked what assessment the Secretary of State for Justice has made of the potential effect of changes to personal injury law and procedure on the number of litigants in person in personal injury claims. In his response, minister Dominic Raab MP confirmed the government's plan to consult on these measures. He has announced that the consultation will be accompanied by an impact assessment.

Read the questions and answers in full

Thursday 14 January

Government: legal services market study launched by CMA 

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a market study to examine the affordability of legal services and standards of service. The CMA's market study will focus on three key issues: 

• whether customers can drive effective competition by making informed purchasing decisions 

• whether customers are adequately protected from potential harm or can obtain satisfactory redress if legal services go wrong 

• how regulation and the regulatory framework impact on competition for the supply of legal services

CMA Senior Director Rachel Merelie commented: "Whether it's buying a property, resolving disputes or getting expert advice on financial and employment matters, it's vitally important that consumers and small businesses can access the legal advice and representation they need. They also need to secure value for money and quality when purchasing these services. These are all areas that can have a major impact - both personally and financially - on the lives of individuals and on the success of small businesses."

Read the press release 

Read the Law Society's statement 

Friday 15 January

Nothing to report

Tags: Westminster weekly update | European Union | Parliament | Labour

About the author

Richard Messingham is head of public affairs at the Law Society. He and his team are responsible for supporting the president and CEO to manage the Society's relationships with Parliamentarians, Ministers, civil servants and other major stakeholders of direct relevance to solicitors.
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