Westminster update: Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill closer to royal assent

Your weekly update from our 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

With all major political parties holding their annual party conferences soon, we are hosting various events with prominent political stakeholders to promote solicitors and the wider profession.

Across Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat conferences, we are hosting fringes in conjunction with each party’s lawyer's society.

If you’re planning to attend party conference, or will be nearby, get in touch and join us!

What you need to know

1. Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill – edging closer to royal assent

This week, the bill was up for debate in both Houses with the final amendments over:

  • the register of overseas entities (ROE)
  • prevention of fraud
  • disclosure of nominees
  • costs recovery for proceedings

In the Lords, Lord Vaux (Crossbench) dropped his unworkable amendment on reporting updates to ROE.

We have been engaging closely with the peer on this matter and advising on potential changes that can be made to bring ROE in line with the persons of significant control (PSC) regime.

Our constructive input led to the peer removing the amendment and not pressing changes to a vote.

Lord Vaux thanked the Law Society, noting “helpful and constructive engagement in many meetings over the recess to try to find a solution to this. While we did find a possible way through, it was so convoluted as to be impractical—so I am not going to oppose the removal of this amendment, even if the issue it was trying to solve remains real.”

The government succeeded in removing amendments around disclosure of nominee information.

The government proposed tweaks of its own which passed in the Commons. These changes allow the secretary of state to regulate further provisions for the purpose of identifying PSCs in cases where shares are held by a nominee.

This will allow the government to work with relevant stakeholders to target the regulations in an effective and focused way that does not impose disproportionate burdens.

Government motions to remove amendments requiring companies to fulfil additional requirements around fraud prevention and the consequences for failing to do so were subject to strong opposition from Labour, the SNP and backbench Conservative MPs.

Ultimately, the government majority in the Commons means the Conservatives won the vote and the amendment was removed.

The bill will go back to the Lords for a final round of parliamentary ping pong.

2. Law Society speaks to APPG on the private rented sector

We spoke at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the private rented sector on 13 September.

We highlighted issues in the courts around housing cases and looked at the potential impact of the Renters Reform Bill, currently before Parliament.

Richard Miller, head of justice, noted that the Renters Reform Bill may lead to more evictions being contested in the courts, creating further work in addition to the existing backlog.

Timeliness on housing cases is already an issue:

  • landlord possession claims increased recently by 24%
  • the average time from claim to repossession is just over 22 weeks

Parliamentarians attending the session argued that an unreformed court system is unlikely to be able to handle the volume of work created by the Renters Reform Bill.

The shortage of legal aid is driving much of the backlog, with 42% of people in England and Wales not having access to a housing provider in their local authority area.

Miller highlighted how greater access to legal aid would help address the backlog, meaning both landlords and tenants have faster access to justice.

He also noted that mediation can be helpful in housing cases given the ongoing relationship between tenants and landlords and can help keep cases out of the courts, but only where appropriate. There needs to remain a route to the courts.

The Renters Reform Bill is currently awaiting its second reading in the House of Commons.

However, there has been media speculation it has been put on hold.

3. Justice ministers questioned in Parliament

Justice questions took place in the House of Commons with MPs raising:

  • legal aid deserts
  • the courts backlog
  • the backlog of asylum cases

Labour MP Nia Griffith highlighted falling spending on housing legal aid and asked what analysis the minister had made of legal aid deserts.

Justice minister Damian Hinds said that more funding has been put into legal aid, with £10m being put into the housing sector since August.

Conservative MP Peter Aldous asked about the courts backlog in Suffolk, calling on ministers to set out a comprehensive and bespoke plan to clear the backlog and set out a long-term strategy for the courts in the area.

Justice minister Mike Freer said that disposals in Suffolk were up by 23% and the outstanding case load had reduced slightly.

MPs also raised the 33-week delay for benefit decision appeals to be heard, Freer said this was being monitored and he would investigate the specific case.

Alison Thewlis, the SNP’s shadow home affairs spokesperson raised a constituent going through an asylum appeal and asked what was being done between the Ministry of Justice and Home Office to address asylum backlogs.

Freer said he would look into this case and noted he worked closely with Home Office colleagues to smooth out these delays.

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 response to the latest criminal court backlog statistics showing that the Crown Court backlog has risen by more than 4,000 cases, while in the magistrates’ court it has risen by more than 15,000 in the same period.

As courts crumble, prisons are overwhelmed and legal aid deserts grow, urgent investment is needed across the entire criminal justice system to prevent its collapse.