Westminster update: Law…
Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.
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On 15 November, the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal that the government’s policy of removing asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing is unlawful in its current form.
In response, the prime minister Rishi Sunak announced later that day that the government will introduce emergency legislation to “enable parliament to confirm that with our new treaty, Rwanda is safe” and see off further legal challenges.
The government will also upgrade the Rwanda policy to a fully-fledged international treaty, which Sunak argued would “address the challenges” of the court ruling.
In a statement to Parliament, the home secretary James Cleverly said that the judgment was made on the back of facts from 15 months ago. He said that the government respects the Supreme Court, but that the ruling does not lessen the resolve of the government to end illegal immigration. He said the government takes its obligation to the courts very seriously and so has already taken action to address concerns raised in the lower courts.
Specifically, he said that the Supreme Court found that there are problems with Rwanda’s asylum system which means that there is a potential that someone could be returned to a country where they might face persecution.
The Home Office are now looking to amend plans with Rwanda, so that it is clear that people sent there cannot be sent from Rwanda to another country. Cleverly believes this will make the policy legally sound.
Several Conservative MPs attempted to make the case for leaving or disapplying the European Convention on Human Rights off the back of this judgment, but Cleverly declined to commit to this, noting that the Supreme Court’s judgment did not hinge solely on the Convention.
We have said that the Rwanda judgment calls into question the government’s Illegal Migration Act as a whole.
We have repeatedly raised concerns about the workability of the Act and its compatibility with international law.
On 13 November, following several inflammatory outbursts by the home secretary, the prime minister sacked Suella Braverman and reshuffled his cabinet.
To replace Braverman as home secretary, the PM moved foreign secretary James Cleverly to the home office.
In a shock move, former prime minister David Cameron was appointed as foreign secretary to replace Cleverly. Cameron will be appointed to the House of Lords so he can take up his role in the foreign office. While unusual, there is precedent for this as a peer previously served as foreign secretary under Margaret Thatcher and peers have headed departments recently in the Johnson and Brown administrations.
There were several moves in the Ministry of Justice as:
We will engage with newly appointed ministers to inform them of the issues and our views as they get to grips with their briefs.
We spoke to MPs scrutinising the Renters Reform Bill as part of its committee stage in the House of Commons on Thursday 16 November.
Richard Miller, our head of justice, set out the serious challenges facing the courts and legal aid system, arguing both need substantial investment if the Renters Reform Bill is going to achieve its aims of reforming the rental market.
Asked about whether the abolition of section 21, which allows no-fault evictions, should be delayed until the courts are reformed, Miller argued this could take years and there is a strong case to implement the bill ahead of further reform.
The government has said it wants to focus on digitising court processes first, but Miller said the courts are facing serious capacity issues and solving that should be the priority along with passing the bill.
Miller was also asked about the consequences of tenants going unrepresented in the courts.
He cited our legal aid desert maps showing that 42% of people in England and Wales do not have access to local legal aid for housing issues. This can lead to problems escalating into homelessness that has to be resolved by other public services, when early legal advice or legal aid could have resolved the problem far sooner.
He called for the bill to be accompanied with investment in the courts, including staff and judges, and for legal aid to be accessible to those who need it.
The bill will continue its committee stage over the coming weeks.
We will continue to brief and engage with parliamentarians throughout its passage.
The Law Society appeared before the House of Lords Finance-Bill Sub-Committee, which is examining this year’s Finance Bill.
Lydia Challen, Co-Chair of the Law Society’s Tax Committee, spoke to the Committee about tax avoidance measures in the Finance Bill.
The Committee asked whether it was right that a criminal offence be added to HMRC’s powers and whether there are safeguards in place for this.
Challen agreed with the other witnesses that there should be independent judicial oversight of measures like this.
Asked about the timing of the new measures, Challen noted that, while supportive of steps to address the mis-selling of tax avoidance schemes, there are already significant measures in place that have not been tested, which could make new provisions premature.
Peers also questioned how much of a deterrent these measures would be, noting that some promoters of these tax schemes operate abroad.
Challen felt that prosecution of someone overseas would require extradition, which can be time consuming. Another hurdle is that the offence has to be valid both here and in the jurisdiction the person is based in. As these can be relatively niche offences, it is unlikely dual criminality will apply.
The government will deliver its autumn statement on 22 November.
We have made a formal submission to the treasury with our recommendations for supporting the justice system and legal sector, and we will continue to push these with MPs and ministers.
Our president, Nick Emmerson, will appear before the Justice Select Committee on 5 December to give evidence on the regulatory framework for solicitors.
We are working on a number of bills in Parliament:
Victims and Prisoners Bill will begin its report stage in the Commons on a date still to be confirmed.
Renters (Reform) Bill began its committee stage proceedings (Commons) on 14 November, with upcoming debates on 21 November.
Criminal Justice Bill will have its second reading in the Commons on 28 November.
Sentencing Bill will have its second reading in the Commons on a date to be confirmed.
Investigative Powers (Amendment) Bill will have its second reading in the Lords on 20 November.
Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill will have its second reading in the Lords on 21 November.
Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill will begin its report stage in the Commons on a date to be confirmed.