Westminster weekly update: Lord Chief Justice questioned on legal aid
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Lord Chief Justice questioned on courts and legal aid
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, gave his annual appearance before the House of Lords Constitution Committee to discuss the justice system on Wednesday 18 May.
On legal aid:
- he highlighted the Law Society’s criminal duty solicitor heatmaps
- praised the work that has been done to show the worsening demographics of the profession, and
- noted the impact a shortage of solicitors could have on the courts and police stations
On the courts backlog:
- he noted it is being worsened by a shortage of judges and legal practitioners, and
- the legal profession is “struggling” with the volume of work coming through the system
Lord Burnett added that the percentage of cases in the Crown Court not dealt with within 6 months has doubled since 2019.
Questioned about diversity in the judiciary, he said:
- a five-year strategy had been published to improve this which is assessed and audited every year
- he also highlighted the work of the Judicial Diversity Forum, and
- work being done to improve data collection and provide pre-application support for potential entrants
Despite this, the Lord Chief Justice said he was particularly concerned about the small number of black applicants appointed for judicial roles.
The Law Society at International Trade Select Committee
Catherine Brims, International Policy Adviser at the Law Society, appeared in front of the International Trade Select Committee on Wednesday 18 May to discuss the UK's free trade agreement with New Zealand and what it means for legal services.
Catherine explained to the Committee that the agreement contains provisions relevant to the legal profession that the Law Society would like to see replicated in other free trade agreements the government is looking to negotiate.
She highlighted that there are three key benefits to the agreement:
- the recognition of the importance of legal services and the role they play in facilitating global trade
- the continuing recognition of the right to home-title practice, and
- increased mobility provisions for business travellers, which will benefit lawyers who frequently ‘fly-in, fly-out’ to give clients legal advice
APPG on Kinship Care
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Kinship Care published its report into legal aid for kinship carers on Tuesday 17 May. The Law Society gave written and oral evidence to the APPG and was referenced 15 times in the report.
Kinship carers are relatives or family friends who step in to take care of a child whose parents are unable to raise them.
The report outlined how most kinship carers do not have access to the legal advice they need. It also criticised the justice system for failing to involve and support the family and friends who put themselves forward.
The report called for kinship carers to receive the early, specialist legal support and advocacy they need.
It also said that access to free legal aid should not be dependent on the policies of individual local authorities or down to solicitors providing support pro bono.
This echoed the Law Society’s view that non-means tested legal aid should be made available in these cases to help protect children and keep them out of the care system.
Government sets out Northern Ireland Protocol plans
The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Liz Truss, gave a statement to the House on Tuesday 17 May to lay out the government’s next steps on the Northern Ireland protocol.
She stated that the government’s “priority is to uphold the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its dimensions" and argued that the agreement is under strain because the Northern Ireland protocol does not have the support of the unionist community in Northern Ireland.
She announced that the government intends to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to make changes to the protocol.
- A new green channel will be introduced for NI-GB goods
- There will be a new trusted trader scheme to provide the EU with real-time commercial data, which should also allow the removal of customs paperwork for goods remaining in the UK
She said that they are proposing a dual regulatory system that encompasses either EU or UK regulation as Northern Ireland businesses choose, which will reflect “its unique status of having a close relationship with the EU while being part of the UK single market.”
She asserted that the European Single Market will be protected under the new legislation.
Several MPs raised concern in the debate which followed about the legality of the government's proposals and the implications such actions could have on future trade deals the UK seeks to strike with other countries
The Law Society will continue to monitor developments in this area and will engage with government following the publication of the forthcoming legislation.
The Law Society will be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:
- Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill: will start in the Commons with Second Reading on 8 June
- National Security Bill: will start in the Commons with Second Reading on 6 June
- Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation Bill): will start in the Commons with Second Reading on 24 May
- Online Safety Bill: will have its Committee Stage in the Commons from 24 May
- Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill: will have its Report Stage in the Commons on 25 May
- Public Order Bill: will start in the Commons with Second Reading on 23 May
- The Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill: will start in the Commons with Second Reading, date yet to be confirmed
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