Westminster update: budget delivers more money for justice
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. Budget delivers new money for justice
On Wednesday 27 October, the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, delivered the autumn budget and the results of the comprehensive spending review in the House of Commons.
Sunak was notably upbeat, with a focus on ‘building back better’ and post-COVID recovery and renewal for the economy, which he said was forecast to return to pre-COVID levels by the end of 2021, earlier than originally predicted.
There were several positive announcements for justice, including commitments to increase the Ministry of Justice’s budget and tackle court backlogs that reflected the recommendations we put forward in our submission to the spending review.
The Ministry of Justice was given a £2.2 billion budget uplift over the length of the spending round, equivalent to an average annual real-terms increase of 3.3%.
To address the courts backlog, £477 million of funding was announced to bring the backlog of cases in the Crown Court down from 60,000 to 53,000 by 2024/25.
£324 million was also announced to increase capacity and tackle backlogs in the civil, family and tribunal courts.
Positively, the spending review included a pledge to increase the thresholds for means-tested legal aid for civil cases.
The government also committed to invest in the sustainability of the civil legal aid market, along with funding potential changes to criminal legal aid, likely referring to the ongoing Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid.
Other key announcements included the introduction of programmes to support victims of sexual and domestic violence as they engage with the criminal justice system, and a new investment of £18 million in 2022/23 and £12 million per year in 2023/24 and 2024/25 towards delivering reforms in the economic crime plan and tackling fraud.
We’ve welcomed the additional funding for the justice system, and urged the government to ensure that this new money is used to implement the recommendations of the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid, restore legal aid for early legal advice and end the legal aid deserts that now stretch across most of England and Wales.
2. Judicial Review and Courts Bill passes first parliamentary debate
The Judicial Review and Courts Bill had its second reading debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday 26 October.
We briefed MPs ahead of the debate, focusing in particular on our opposition to proposals to allow courts to limit or remove the retrospective effect of a quashing order and to introduce a statutory presumption in favour of using prospective-only and suspended quashing orders.
In introducing the bill, the lord chancellor, Dominic Raab, stated that the reforms to quashing orders are aimed at striking “a better balance between the essential judicial accountability over the executive and the ability of an elected government to deliver their mandate in a lawful but orderly way”.
The Law Society was mentioned twice during the debate by shadow lord chancellor David Lammy and by Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Wera Hobhouse.
Lammy highlighted our view that the proposals in clause 1 of the bill would have a chilling effect on justice by disincentivising people from bringing meritorious claims.
Labour, the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats opposed the bill, and pushed the debate to a vote, which the government won by 321 votes to 220.
The bill will next proceed to committee stage. We’ll be giving oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee at its sitting on 2 November.
3. Lords pushes for Environment Bill amendments
The Lords and the Commons continued their back and forth on amendments to the Environment Bill, with Tuesday 26 October seeing the Lords take their turn to consider the Commons’ reasons for rejecting Lords amendments and the Commons’ amendments in lieu.
We briefed members of the Lords, calling on the House to:
- reject Commons amendments 31A and 31B
- put forward an alternative amendment that would retain a parliamentary role in scrutinising appointments to the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP)
The Lords passe,eu, which conceded the ability for the secretary of state to issue guidance to the OEP subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and reinserted the requirement that the secretary of state obtain the approval of two parliamentary select committees for any appointments to the OEP.
The Lords also voted in favour of amendment 33B, which aims to retain judicial discretion over the awarding of remedies in environmental review cases. This reflects another key recommendation we made in our briefing.
The House of Commons will consider these amendments in lieu on 8 November.
We’ll be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:
- we’ll be giving oral evidence to the Judicial Review and Courts Bill committee on 2 November
- the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will continue its committee stage on 1 November
- Environment Bill: the House of Commons will be considering amendments by the House of Lords on 8 November
- the Professional Qualifications Bill will have its report stage in the House of Lords on 9 November
- the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill had its third reading in the House of Lords on 14 September. The date of its second reading in the Commons is yet to be announced
- the Building Safety Bill completed its committee stage on 26 October. The date of its report stage in the Commons is yet to be announced
- the Nationality and Borders Bill will continue its committee stage on 2 November
If you made it this far...
Our latest legal aid desert maps show the growing civil legal aid deserts across the country, where many are unable to access legal help locally.