Westminster update: PM pressed on court backlogs and migration

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

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Get involved with our campaign to prevent the collapse of our criminal justice system.

We’re asking you to write to your MP using our quick and easy tool to help us protect the justice system.

The right to a solicitor when accused of a crime is something that should never be compromised. But since 2017, the number of duty solicitors providing representation at police stations has fallen by 1,446 (26%).

Our new research, highlighted by the BBC, shows that if this trend continues, a further 618 will disappear by 2027 (11%).

We want as many people as possible to write to their MP to highlight our research and to call on them to raise this issue in Parliament and with ministers. 

What you need to know

1. PM pressed on court backlogs and migration

The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, was questioned by MPs about addressing the courts backlog and the Rwanda returns agreement during a session of the Liaison Committee on Tuesday 4 July.

The Committee is made up of select committee chairs from the House of Commons.

Sir Bob Neill, chair of the Justice Select Committee, opened the session asking what steps are being taken to fund the Ministry of Justice properly in response to the increased pressures that will come from an additional 20,000 police officers.

We recently raised a similar concern about the impact more police will have on falling numbers of duty solicitors.

The prime minister said the downstream impact had been calculated and funded as part of the settlement he oversaw when he was chancellor.

Turning to migration, Dame Diana Johnson, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, questioned what the government will do if it is unsuccessful in its appeal against the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the Rwanda scheme to deport asylum seekers is unlawful.

Sunak argued the plan is compliant with the UK’s legal obligations and said the Government is robustly appealing the decision. The prime minister highlighted a recently agreed returns agreement with Albania, and noted that the government is taking other actions too.

Johnson pointed to the Illegal Migration Bill and asked what would happen to the majority of people crossing the Channel in small boats given the Rwanda scheme only has capacity for 500 people.

Sunak said the scheme is uncapped and that he did not want to comment on private commercial discussions.

We have argued that the Illegal Migration Bill in its current form is unworkable.

2. Government faces more defeats on Illegal Migration Bill

The government has faced a second week of lost votes in the House of Lords, which continued its report stage on the Illegal Migration Bill on 3 and 5 July. 

Every amendment that was pushed to a division was passed, seeing changes to the Bill’s provisions on unaccompanied children and victims of modern slavery, as well as on rule of law issues such as interim measures and suspensive claims.

The government saw challenges even from their own benches, with several Conservative peers pushing amendments on the treatment of children, and the need for safe and legal routes to be established within a set timeframe.

The Bill had its third reading on Monday 10 June, before rapidly returning to the Commons for consideration of the Lords’ amendments. With plenty of amendments left to debate, ping pong is expected to be rapid and eventful.

3. Economic Crime Bill: moving on to ping pong

The Economic Crime Bill had its third reading in the Lords on Tuesday 4 July with forty government amendments tabled and agreed.

Lords from across the political spectrum again shared their support for the government's ambition to tackle economic crime and agreed with all the tabled amendments which mainly sought to tidy up language and make small technical changes to the Bill.

Amendment 9 will be of particular interest to legal practitioners.

Originally tabled by Lord Vaux (crossbench), the amendment has been rewritten by the government. It will mean that where an overseas entity holds interests in land as a nominee, that person is treated as a beneficial owner for the purposes of the register of overseas entities.

We are concerned that the drafting of this amendment is unworkable in practice and risks creating links between nominees on the register that do not exist in practice. We have raised these concerns with the Department of Business and Trade and are continuing to work closely with them and parliamentarians as the Bill progresses.

The Bill now moves on to the first stage of ping pong, with consideration of Lords amendments in the Commons.

The date for this has not been confirmed but we will be sharing our views with MPs when it returns to Parliament.

Coming up:

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

Illegal Migration Bill had its third reading in the Lords.

Victims and Prisoners Bill will continue its committee stage next week.

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill will start consideration of Lords amendments next week on a date yet to be confirmed.

National Security Bill is awaiting Royal Assent.

Powers of Attorney Bill will have its report stage in the Lords, date to be confirmed.

Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill will have its report stage in the Commons, date to be confirmed.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will have its report stage in the Lords on 11 July.

If you made it this far...

Read our press release on the government's consultation on legal aid fees.

On 27 June, the government announced it has launched a consultation in relation to legal aid fees in the Illegal Migration Bill.

The consultation comes very late into the Bill’s journey through Parliament.

Our president Lubna Shuja, has indicated that the consultation alone will not solve the legal aid crisis or the issues with the Bill – with there being a severe lack of capacity in the asylum and immigration sector, and a growing asylum backlog.

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