King's speech report
One thing you need to do
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What you need to know
1. Government Introduces multiple bills on crime and justice
On Tuesday, King Charles III officially opened a new session of Parliament with the delivery of the King’s speech.
The King set out the government’s legislative agenda for the final session before the next general election.
The speech, drafted by the government, unveiled a total 21 bills, six of which were carried over from the previous session of Parliament.
Before the speech, media outlets and political commentators heavily speculated that crime and justice would play a central role in the government’s plans. They were not wrong.
The King spoke about “safeguarding the health and security of the British people” and that the government would legislate for tougher sentences and greater police power. Several bills were announced in this area.
The Criminal Justice Bill will cover a wide range of measures from compelling defendants to attend court hearings to strengthening criminal action against the sharing of intimate images.
The Sentencing Bill will legislate tougher centres for those committing the most heinous of crimes and ensure those convicted remain in custody for the entire duration of their sentence.
We also welcome the return of the Victims and Prisoners Bill, especially measures to provide an independent advocate for victims following major incidents, and to enhance victims’ access to justice by putting the Victims’ Code on a statutory footing.
However, proposed changes within this bill to the parole board are likely to add complexity and delay to its decisions, while provisions to give the secretary of state powers to usurp its decision-making will override the common law principle that decisions about liberty are for the judiciary.
With all legislative changes to the justice system, the government must also address the growing court backlog, which recently reached 65,000 cases, and make sure that criminal legal aid is properly funded so cases can move through the system as smoothly as possible.
2. Renters (Reform Bill) reaffirmed
We broadly support the ambitions of the Renters (Reform) Bill to reform the rental market.
For too long, tenants have suffered from an unbalanced relationship with their landlords.
We hope to see this bill promote fairness for both parties and bring stability to the private rented market.
We have concerns over how provisions in the bill to prohibit a landlord from reletting or remarketing a property within three months of obtaining a possession order will be enforced. The government should provide clarity on how local authorities will be expected to enforce these measures.
The three-month period is also very short, and the government should consider whether a period of six months or longer would provide a better safeguard.
The new mandatory ground for repossession if a tenant goes into arrears three times in the previous three years may unfairly penalise people in difficult circumstances.
The government should instead give the courts discretion to decide, given the specific circumstances of the case, if repossession is the appropriate action.
Landlords want certainty that if a tenant fails to comply with their tenancy agreement, for example by not paying rent, they would be able to repossess their property.
A key factor in that is the reliability and efficiency of the court process for recovering possession.
Unfortunately, however, the courts are vastly overstretched: possession claims and the eviction process can take many months, sometimes more.
The bill may lead to an increase in contested hearings in the short term as landlords that would previously have used no-fault provisions will instead have to prove fault.
The government should outline how it intends to manage increased demand on the courts and what additional resourcing it will put in place to deal with existing backlogs.
3. Leasehold and Freehold Bill to bring fairness to private rented sector
The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill rightly takes action to address fairness in the housing market.
We broadly support long-term and necessary changes to make it cheaper and easier for more leaseholders to extend their lease, buy their freehold and take over management of their building.
We agree that houses should be sold freehold unless there are particular reasons justifying a leasehold tenure.
The main justifications for selling residential units – both houses and flats – on a leasehold basis are:
- to provide for the repair of common parts
- the enforcement of mutual restrictions
- the automatic continuance of rights when properties change hands
However, owning a property freehold does not necessarily remove all of the ills that can be found in leasehold properties.
Some freehold schemes are also subject to the equivalent of service charges, the need to obtain consent for alterations and many of the matters that are vulnerable to unfair practice.
We are pleased to see the proposals to grant freehold homeowners on private and mixed tenure estates the same rights of redress as leaseholders:
- extending equivalent rights to transparency over their estate charges
- access to support via redress schemes
- challenge the charges they pay by taking a case to a tribunal
However, to be truly effective the proposals will need to take account of the concerns about the lack of adoption of highways and provision of mains sewerage.
We welcome proposals to help make the process of buying and selling leasehold properties easier.
Requiring landlords and managing agents to respond to requests for key information – for example, about insurance and service charges – within a maximum time at a maximum fee should assist leasehold home buying and selling by helping ensure buyers have the information they need to make an informed decision at the earliest possible point.
The government will deliver its autumn statement on 22 November.
We have made a formal submission to HM Treasury with our recommendations for supporting the justice system and legal sector, and we will continue to push these with MPs and ministers.
Next week, Law Society tax committee co-chair Lydia Challen will be giving evidence at the Finance Bill Subcommittee.
Also next week, the head of our justice policy team will give evidence during a Renters Reform Bill oral evidence session.
Below is an update on the bills the we have been working on:
- Renters Reform Bill is awaiting the commencement of its committee stage in the Commons, on 14 November
- 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
- Victims and Prisoners Bill has been carried over to the next parliamentary session, where it will begin its report stage in the Commons
- Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill has been carried over to the next parliamentary session, where it will begin its report stage in the Commons
If you made it this far:
With the government set to outline their budget allocations for the upcoming year, we have pushed for further investment in civil and criminal legal aid, as well as advocating for the harnessing of digital technology.