Westminster update: Retained EU Law Bill batted back to Commons

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

One thing you need to do

The Law Society of England and Wales, the Bar Council of England and Wales and the Bar Council of India have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to strengthen cooperation and legal exchange in light of the opening up of India’s legal services sector to foreign lawyers.

Read more about what this historic MoU will mean for opening up the Indian legal services sector to foreign lawyers.

What you need to know

1. Retained EU Law Bill: batted back to Commons

Tuesday 6 June saw the latest stage of ping pong for the Retained EU Law Bill (REUL).

Peers reviewed the disagreements and proposed changes that the Commons made to their amendments. Two motions went to a vote, forcing the bill to head back to the Commons next Monday.

We were mentioned by Lord Anderson (Crossbench) alongside the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and Green Alliance for their support of his and Lord Krebs’ (Crossbench) amendments.

The key issues were:

  • the scrutiny of revoking laws already on the schedule
  • EU rights, powers and liabilities which are not on the schedule but are planned to be revoked

Lord Anderson initially tabled two amendments requiring a joint committee, as well as a debate on the floor of both Houses. This was rejected by the Commons and therefore amended again by Lord Anderson to require a Commons committee only.

Lord Murray, the minister responsible for this bill in the Lords urged the House to reject Lord Anderson’s counter-amendment which went to a vote. Peers voted in support of increased scrutiny and Lord Anderson’s counter-amendment will be debated in the Commons next week.

A similar debate followed for Lord Krebs’ amendment on preventing the downgrading of environmental protections. His amendment 15B aims to ensure that when revoking EU law, the relevant national authority is satisfied that we are not left with worse standards and that international obligations are upheld.

After short debate and general support, the motion went to division. The motion was agreed, and this important amendment will go back to the Commons for a further vote.

Read the debate transcript

2. Illegal Migration Bill: peers debate protections for children and return agreements

The Illegal Migration Bill had day two and three of committee in the Lords, with long hours of debate lasting until 4am.

The focus of debate was:

  • the lack of return agreements with other countries for failed asylum seekers
  • the delay in the publication of an impact assessment of the bill
  • child protections

There was widespread frustration that matters of such importance were debated so late into the evening, with Lord Bach (Labour) labelling the government’s insistence to push the bill through “disgraceful”.

Amendments to the bill were focussed on the process for how unaccompanied children seeking asylum are accommodated, and the fact that despite the publication of an equality impact assessment, the government has not considered which countries may be unsafe for gay people to return to.

The late night debate also heard many concerns over the treatment of pregnant refugees.

Committee stage will continue on Monday and Wednesday next week and we are continuing to brief peers around our key concerns on the workability of the bill, compliance with international law, and access to justice.

Read all materials related to the bill, including the equality impact assessment and the transcript of the debates.

3. Master of the rolls outlines vision for civil justice

The master of the rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos, outlined his vision for civil justice during an evidence session with the Justice Select Committee.

Sir Geoffrey, in his first appearance before the Justice Select Committee, outlined his three priorities: digitisation, data and diversity.

Digitisation would see a move towards a civil justice system that was more accessible and efficient, while data would help the system to be managed more effectively.

Sir Geoffrey argued that every senior judge should be vocal about diversity and its importance, while acknowledging it is a work in progress for the judiciary.

Turning to his overall vision, the master of the rolls outlined how he wants to see a system where anyone with a dispute of any kind would be able to go online to a landing page and get early legal advice, be directed to the right dispute resolution service and be able to resolve their dispute quickly.

This would save court time and hearings for the most intractable cases.

The committee questioned how litigants in person would navigate this system.

Sir Geoffrey felt that digitisation made the legal system more accessible and easier to use, especially as online systems tended to be designed with litigants in mind. He added that he was committed to ensuring vulnerable parties and the digitally excluded can operate and have access to the civil justice system too.

Early advice was also raised during the session, with MPs asking how it could be integrated into an online system.

Sir Geoffrey saw early advice as critical and argued it should be available at the earliest possible stage. He acknowledged that both he and the lord chancellor were passionate about it and, if it could funded, it should be a key part of his civil justice vision.

Coming up

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

If you made it this far...

Read our briefing on the Victims and Prisoners Bill

We welcome the provisions in this bill for:

  • independent advocates for victims following major incidents  
  • enhancing victims’ access to justice by putting the Victims’ Code on a statutory footing

However, changes to the parole board are likely to add complexity and delay to its decisions. Also, 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.

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