Human rights

Westminster update: Judicial Review Bill passes Commons

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. Judicial Review Bill passes Commons

The Judicial Review and Courts Bill passed its report stage and third reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday (25 January).

The Law Society was mentioned during the debate by Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson, who highlighted our opposition to the creation of prospective-only quashing orders for use in judicial review cases.

We supported a number of amendments at report stage, including an amendment aimed at reversing the statutory presumption in favour of using a suspended or prospective-only quashing order, which we argued would infringe on judicial discretion and could see successful claimants denied an effective remedy.

This amendment was pushed to a vote by the opposition, but was voted down by 306 votes to 227.

Another amendment that we supported, which aimed to make legal aid available to bereaved families at inquests in which state bodies are involved, was voted down by 313 votes to 186.

The bill will now move to the House of Lords, where it will have its second reading on 7 February.

2. Attorney General quizzed by MPs on her priorities

Attorney General Suella Braverman gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee on the work of the Law Officers on Tuesday (25 January). The session covered her view of the remit of the courts and what more can be done to address the courts backlog.

Asked about her views on the constitutional balance with the judiciary, Braverman argued the courts had begun to stray into more political realms, with potential ramifications for the judiciary and its reputation if this continued.

She highlighted the Miller 2 case on prorogation as an example of this, saying “unusual logic” had been used in the case and that the Supreme Court had begun to stray into the executive’s territory in its judgment that nullified the prorogation of Parliament.

Braverman was pressed on the Government’s 53,000 target for the Crown Court backlog. When asked if this is sufficiently ambitious, Braverman said progress is being made in the magistrates’ court and that the Government is investing further to address the backlog.

She also noted that her reforms to disclosure of evidence would help further, as would addressing challenges to the criminal legal aid system.

3. Leasehold Reform Bill finishes journey through the Commons

The Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill completed its Commons stages this week, passing its report stage and third reading on Monday (24 January) without further amendment.

The bill will return to the Lords for consideration of the Commons’ amendments, but will likely be swiftly passed into law.

We were referenced during the debate by Andy Carter (Conservative), who cited our parliamentary briefing regarding the role of the solicitor in advising their client on a home purchase.

While he accepted our argument that “it is not the solicitor’s place to dissuade a client from entering into a particular transaction”, but simply to “ensure that the transaction is legally sound and efficiently completed”, he nonetheless expressed concern that some solicitors failed to advise their clients adequately on the implications of lease terms.

4. MPs raise concerns around "lawfare"

MPs held a backbench business debate on “lawfare” in the UK’s courts last week (20 January).

Led by David Davis (Conservative) and Liam Byrne (Labour), MPs debated the use of strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPPs) and the role of law firms in facilitating it.

Davis praised the UK’s legal system but argued it is being used by “those with deep pockets” to pursue journalists and attack freedom of speech.

He argued that some law firms are facilitating this work, and he argued that the Government should do more to stop the use of SLAPPs in the courts.

Byrne concurred, calling for protective legislation and a defamation defence fund financed by a windfall tax on law firms making money from the practice. He highlighted a number of firms that he accused of being involved in SLAPPs and questioned their behaviour.

The Chair of the Justice Select Committee, Sir Bob Neill (Conservative), highlighted the extensive checks and regulations in place on solicitor firms. He said it would be dangerous for Parliament to intervene with the rights of lawyers in respect of choosing their clients.

Though he did hope the Ministry of Justice would consult on anti-SLAPP laws similar to those used in the United States.

Responding for the Government, Courts Minister James Cartlidge noted the respect our judiciary and legal profession attract from around the world and the sector’s contribution to the economy.

He said the Government is working to curb libel tourism and that it is monitoring the use of SLAPPs, with current statistics not identifying a dramatic rise in their use.

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 results of the first SQE assessment and our concern at the attainment gap between white, Black, Asian and minority ethnic candidates.

We welcome the news the Solicitors Regulation Authority has commissioned in-depth research so it can better understand the causes of differential attainment in legal qualifications.

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