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Parliamentary update: Law Society raised in leasehold debate
Your weekly update from our public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.
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1. Law Society recommendation highlighted in Leasehold Reform Bill debate
Monday 14 June saw the final day of committee stage in the House of Lords for the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill.
Our recommendation that the definition of “rent” in the bill be tightened was the focus of a section of the debate centred around Lord Young of Cookham’s amendment 21.
Lord Young (Conservative) referenced the “helpful briefing that we have all had from the Law Society”, noting our view that “the main issue with the bill at present is the failure to distinguish between different types of rent.
Although the government’s clear intention is to tackle ground rents alone, the bill does not make this focus clear.” Lord Young’s amendment offered an alternative definition of rent based on the wording in section 4(1)(b) of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967, as we recommended.
Baroness Grender (Lib Dem) echoed many of the points made by Lord Young, including thanking the Law Society “for its very helpful briefing on this issue”, and our recommendation for tightening the definition of rent along the lines of section 4(1)(b) of the Leasehold Reform Act 1967.
In his response, the minister, Lord Greenhalgh, argued that the government’s intention behind defining rent widely in this bill is to prevent landlords from finding loopholes through which they can reintroduce monetary ground rents by another name.
While he rejected the need for Lord Young’s amendment, he nonetheless said he is “interested to see what the Law Society comes up with” at report stage.
In total, we were mentioned nine times during the debate. The bill will next proceed to report stage, for which a date has not yet been set.
2. Law Society referenced in Lords debate on Professional Qualifications Bill
On Monday 14 June, the House of Lords continued debating the Professional Qualifications Bill in committee.
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Conservative), who we briefed ahead of second reading, raised several points from our briefing.
We were referenced for its observation that reciprocity for the openness of our jurisdiction is not currently being sought with European partners (this would be very difficult to achieve).
Baroness McIntosh also noted our call for more support for regulators in negotiating mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) as the EU-Canada model on which the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement is based has not delivered a single MRA in its three year lifespan.
The minister for investment, Lord Grimstone of Boscobel, responded for the government, observing that it is up to regulators to decide whether to agree a recognition agreement and to propose its terms, which “takes time.”
He also said the government may look to agree “more ambitious” provisions on recognition with select trade partners, referring to the EEA-EFTA trade deal as an example.
3. Remote hearing provisions in Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill debated
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill had further committee sessions on Monday and Wednesday this week (14 and 16 June), and provisions within the bill to put the use of remote hearings on to a permanent legislative footing were debated.
Shadow justice minister Alex Cunningham questioned the rationale for the move given that the pandemic is beginning to recede, stating that Labour could cautiously support the plan if it were only intended as a futureproofing measure.
He also highlighted the risk of juries hearing cases remotely, noting the lack of consultation or impact assessment on this measure.
In response, the justice minister Chris Philp argued that the bill would not make the use of remote hearings and technology compulsory, and it would remain a matter for the court to decide. He noted that there are a wide range of circumstances in which a judge would consider whether the use of a remote hearing is appropriate for a case.
Clauses enabling the remote observation and recording of proceedings were also debated. Though supporting the move, Cunningham argued that there should be wider consultation with external experts on how these clauses are put into practice.
Responding, Philp noted that judges would maintain ultimate discretion in this area and that there would be informal consultation around implementation of remote observation.
The bill will complete its committee stage next week.
We'll continue to work with MPs to ensure the legislation maintains access to justice for all
4. MPs debate Mental Health Act white paper
On Wednesday 16 June, the Commons held a Westminster Hall Debate on a recent white paper in which the government detailed its plans for reforming the 1983 Mental Health act.
We briefed key MPs ahead of the debate.
In her address, Helen Hayes (Labour) echoed one of our recommendations when she stressed the importance of clarity within any future reforms. She also raised her concern that black people are more likely than white to be referred to the mental health service through the criminal justice system.
We've expressed misgivings that the white paper draws distinctions between various groups of people, including those in the justice system, setting a dangerous precedent for differential ‘classes’ of people in the mental health system.
The minister for patient safety, suicide prevention and mental health, Nadine Dorries, responded by noting that the consultation on the white paper received a wide-reaching response.
Dorries also argued that the government’s proposals include vital improvements to how individuals in the criminal justice system with severe mental disorders are managed. She also said the government is committed to developing community-based services to assist individuals with disabilities and autism, reflecting a key Law Society recommendation.
5. Director of public prosecutions questioned by MPs
On Tuesday 15 June, the director of public prosecutions, Max Hill QC, appeared before the Justice Select Committee to give evidence on his work.
The committee questioned Hill on the courts backlog and prosecutions of rape. He argued that the backlog was a problem of volume and speed, and that in the magistrates’ court this would require triage and prioritisation of cases.
For the Crown Court, the best possible use of technology needs to be made, though he cautioned about the heavy workload of moving cases from “computer to courtroom” if cases were listed too quickly.
The committee also raised the extremely low level of rape prosecutions and what was being done to address this. Hill agreed there was an alarming disparity between the number of reported cases and the number that reached the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or made it to court.
He hoped the upcoming rape review would be an opportunity to improve the situation. Hill also highlighted the work of the Joint Operational Improvement Board and the specific legal guidance and strategies the CPS had in place for the prosecution of rape.
We'll be working closely with MPs and peers and contributing to a number of upcoming bills, debates and inquiries in Parliament.
In the coming weeks, we'll be focusing on the following:
- Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill: the bill is currently going through committee stage in the House of Commons, with the committee scheduled to sit on every Tuesday and Thursday until Thursday 24 June. We have briefed MPs ahead of relevant debates and will be submitting written evidence to the committee before the deadline on 24 June
- Environment Bill: the next sitting of the bill’s House of Lords committee stage will take place on Monday 21 June. We'll be briefing peers on our key concerns with the bill
- Professional Qualifications Bill: we've briefed peers for the bill’s committee stage, and the bill is scheduled for two further sittings of committee stage in the House of Lords on Monday 21 June and Wednesday 23 June
- Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill: we'll be preparing briefs for the House of Lords report stage, the date of which is yet to be confirmed
- Inquiries: we'll be submitting written evidence the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry into co-habiting couples by the deadline of 4 July
We'll also be briefing MPs participating in the upcoming Treasury oral questions on Tuesday 22 June and the debate on the CPTPP on Thursday 24 June.
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