Westminster update: Alex Chalk appointed lord chancellor

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.
The palace of Westminster in the evening.
Photograph: Thomas Riebesehl

One thing you need to do

Read our briefing for MPs on the Illegal Migration Bill, where we set out concerns about its non-compliance with international law, impact on access to justice and workability. 

What you need to know

1. Alex Chalk appointed lord chancellor

On 21 April, Alex Chalk was appointed as lord chancellor following the resignation of Dominic Raab after a report into allegations of bullying by Raab upheld two of the complaints.

Raab commissioned the report in November after eight formal complaints were made about his behaviour as foreign secretary, brexit secretary and during his first stint as justice secretary, promising to resign if the allegations were upheld.

Chalk, a qualified barrister, will move back to the Ministry of Justice following a stint as a defence minister. He previously served as a junior justice minister between 2020 and 2021 before being made solicitor general by Boris Johnson.

The Law Society has worked closely with Chalk for many years starting from his time on the Justice Select Committee between 2015 and 2017.

He appeared on our panel event at Conservative Party Conference last year and we worked closely with him as a justice minister and as solicitor general on issues ranging from tech in the justice system to wider access to justice concerns.

Commenting on the announcement, our president Lubna Shuja said: “The justice system is facing worsening backlogs, legal aid on the point of collapse, crumbling courts and a shortage of judges and court staff. The new Justice Secretary must get a grip on the crisis as a matter of urgency. It is Alex Chalk’s job to bring the justice system back to full strength and I look forward to working closely with him to fight for improved access to justice for all.”

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has also appointed Oliver Dowden to the role of deputy prime minister, a position Raab held alongside that of lord chancellor.

Dowden is a key ally of Sunak, who will be seeking to shore up his cabinet ahead of the local elections next month.

2. Illegal Migration Bill: government amendment will breach international law

It has been reported that the government is planning to table an amendment to the Illegal Migration Bill at report stage, which will state that the government can ignore interim measures from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on issues of immigration.

This follows pressure from a group of Conservative backbenchers, who have been pushing the prime minister to harden the Bill so that ministers can ignore interim rulings. The group has been calling for this since last year when one of the Strasbourg court’s Rule 39 injunctions blocked the government’s first attempt to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Though the amendment has not yet been published, we have called for it to be dropped as it would be a clear and serious violation of international law, cause several issues for the UK’s standing on the world stage and be damaging to the rule of law in the UK.

Interim measures issued by the ECtHR are binding on the Government and the proposed amendment would not release the Government from its obligations as signatory to the Convention. Compliance with an interim measure of the ECtHR is a matter of international law and the Government’s obligations under this could not, in any case, be altered by domestic law.

Report stage for the Bill takes place on Wednesday 26 April, where MPs will have the chance to debate this amendment. We are urging MPs not to support it.

3. Data Protection Bill passes second reading

On Monday 17 April, the Data Protection and Information (No.2) Bill, which will update the UK’s data protection framework and provide organisations with greater flexibility on data protection legislation, passed its second reading in the Commons.

We have cautioned that the legislation must not threaten the EU’s data adequacy decision for the UK. This is important for firms and clients as it provides certainty in cross-border data transfers.

We have also recommended that the government set out how it will avoid creating legal uncertainty when making major changes to the current data protection framework.

Both the science minister, Paul Scully, and the minister for data, Julia Lopez, asserted that the government is in close talks with the EU on the Bill and that it poses no risk to the UK’s retention of data adequacy. Lopez highlighted that the government wants to lift the burden on businesses, not create a “compliance headache” for them.

The shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Lucy Powell, said that Labour supports the Bill, but was not convinced it would work as intended.

There were also concerns raised by Labour that the Bill would allow the government to interfere with the Information Commissioner’s Office and set its priorities.

The Bill will now move to committee stage in the Commons, which will begin in early May.

We will continue to brief MPs on the Bill and the importance of maintaining data adequacy for our members.

Coming up:

The Law Society will be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:

Illegal Migration Bill will have its report stage in the Commons on 26 April.

Retained EU Law Bill will have it report stage in the Lords on a date to be confirmed.

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill will continue its committee stage in the Lords next week.

National Security Bill will have its consideration of Lords amendments on 3 May.

Victims and Prisoners Bill will have its second reading in the Commons on a date to be confirmed.

Powers of Attorney Bill will have its second reading in the Lords on a date to be confirmed.

Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill will begin its committee stage in the Commons on 10 May.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will continue its committee stage in the Lords next week.

If you made it this far...

We launched our milestone climate change guidance this week. The release of the guidance on the impact of climate change on solicitors follows on from our commitment to our Climate Change Resolution in 2021.

“The effects of climate change – even on legal practices – are wide-ranging and constantly evolving,” said our president Lubna Shuja.

“Solicitors should be aware of this changing landscape and its potential impact upon their organisations, as well as on the legal advice they provide.”

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