Westminster update: judicial review reforms announced

Your weekly update from our public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.

Palace of Westminster

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Five things you need to know

1. Government announces judicial review reform plans

Thursday 18 March saw the publication of the Independent Review of Administrative Law’s report on reform of judicial review and the government’s response outlining the recommendations it intends to take forwards.

In a statement to the House of Commons, the lord chancellor, Robert Buckland, highlighted two reforms that would be taken forward immediately.

First, legislating to remove Cart judicial reviews so that decisions of the Upper Tribunal on immigration cases cannot be reviewed by the High Court.

Second, giving courts the power to suspend quashing orders, so that they do not take effect immediately and instead give time to the government to bring forward a political solution.

The lord chancellor also announced that he would consult on additional proposals that go beyond the independent review’s recommendations.

The consultation will consider proposals in three areas:

  • how best to give effect to ‘ouster clauses’ that are passed by parliament
  • whether to introduce ‘prospective only’ remedies to reduce the retrospective impact of judicial review judgments
  • whether additional procedural reforms are needed to improve the efficiency of the judicial review process

We've responded to the report, warning that any proposals for reform of judicial review must not undermine its accessibility or its effectiveness as a tool for upholding the law and holding public bodies to account.

Read the Independent Review of Administrative Law's report

Read our response

2. Our amendments debated in third reading of National Security and Investment Bill 

On Tuesday 16 March, the National Security and Investment bill had its third sitting of committee stage in the House of Lords.

Peers have tabled 11 amendments we drafted, and during the debate we were mentioned seven times by four different peers.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots (Conservative) noted that he had “been reliant on the expertise of the Law Society for the detailed drafting” of amendment 67, which aimed to provide greater clarity for businesses on the issue of voluntary notifications.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Conservative) said she was “delighted to support amendment 67”, praising it for “giving clarity”, and thanked us “for bringing it to our attention”.

Lord Grantchester (shadow spokesperson for business, energy and industrial strategy) also highlighted that “the Law Society has raised concerns” about voluntary notifications.

Responding to the amendment, Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Government Whip) agreed with the need for clarity. She argued that this was why the bill included statutory timescales for cases to be screened by the investment security unit.

She also noted that the legislation states that the secretary of state is required to give a “call-in notice or issue a notification of no further action before the end of the review period in response to… voluntary notification[s]”.

The date for the bill’s report stage has yet to be confirmed.

Read the National Security and Investment Bill debate

3. Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill passes second reading

On Monday 15 March and Tuesday 16 March, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill had its second reading in the House of Commons, passing on Tuesday night by 359 votes to 263.

We briefed MPs beforehand and were mentioned positively during the session.

Debate predominantly focused on the bill’s provisions to increase policing of protests, which Labour MPs described as an attack on civil liberties.

In response, the lord chancellor, Robert Buckland, said that the government is implementing recommendations of the Law Commission from 2015 and restating existing law.

On the bill’s reform of pre-charge bail, Theresa May (Conservative) argued that the nine-month period before the police have to go to the magistrates' court for an extension of bail should be reviewed carefully, so people are not left in a situation where their lives are placed on hold, echoing our concerns around the bill.

We have also raised issues around proposals that will permanently enable the use of remote hearings, as data on the impact of remote hearings on court users and their wider implications for access to justice have not been fully reviewed.

The bill will now begin its committee stage in the coming weeks.

Read the day one transcript of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill second reading

Read the day two transcript of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill second reading

4. MPs debate the use of release under investigation

On Tuesday 16 March, Sir David Amess (Conservative) led a Westminster Hall debate on the use of release under investigation (RUI) by the Metropolitan Police.

We briefed ahead of the debate and Amess noted we had proposed reforms to the practice.

Amess gave a brief history of the use of RUI, outlining how it had emerged following changes to pre-charge bail in the Policing and Crime Act 2017, and noted that it often means that those suspected of a crime are left in limbo for potentially years at a time. He called for the practice to be changed and for better data to be collected on its use.

Responding to the debate, the Home Office minister Kevin Foster said the government hopes to lessen the use of RUI through changes to pre-charge bail in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill, which recently passed its second reading, and through greater guidance to police.

Read the release under investigation debate

5. Government publishes highly anticipated integrated review

On Tuesday 16 March, the government published its long awaited integrated review, covering security, defence, development, and foreign policy.

Launching the review, the prime minister said he was “profoundly optimistic about the UK’s place in the world”, and that the review enables the UK to “look forward with confidence” as it “shapes the world of the future”.

Legal services are mentioned specifically in the review as part of a section on ‘diplomatic leadership in a changing world’.

Legal diplomacy is referred to alongside regulatory and cyber diplomacy, and the government plans to support “open societies through capacity-building and justice reform, and promoting UK legal services, ensuring that the principles and values on which our domestic system is built remain the global standard”.  

The review states the government’s intention is to be “well-placed to take advantage of emerging markets, shifts in the global economy and global progress in science and technology, and to shoulder our share of the burden in providing for stability and security at the global level as well as in the Euro-Atlantic area.”

It's stated that this will guide the way diplomatic efforts are prioritised, including the tilt toward the Indo-Pacific.

The review characterises the UK as 'bound by shared values that are fundamental to our national identity, democracy and way of life,' including the rule of law.

The review also commits to promoting effective and transparent governance, robust democratic institutions and the rule of law by supporting "strong, transparent and accountable political processes and institutions overseas, including parliaments and political parties, through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and other institutions". 

Read the review 

Coming up next week

In the Commons, MPs will vote on Thursday 25 March on whether to renew the provisions in the Coronavirus Act.

The Commons will debate the Lords’ amendments to the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill on Monday 22 March, and the Justice Committee is taking oral evidence on court capacity on Wednesday 24 March.

In addition, MPs will be questioning ministers from the Home Office, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy, and the Cabinet Office on Monday 22 March, Tuesday 23 March, and Thursday 25 March, respectively. 

In the Lords, peers will question the government on British judges in Hong Kong on Monday 22 March.

On Tuesday 23 March, the Commons’ amendments to the Trade Bill will be considered, and the Domestic Abuse Bill has its third reading on Wednesday 24 March. There will also be a motion relating to the one year report on the Coronavirus Act.

On Friday 26 March, both houses break up for the Easter recess. The Lords are due back on 11 April and the Commons on 12 April. 

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