Westminster update: new shadow justice secretary

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

Read our urgent call for the government to invest £11.3 million in early legal advice to stop legal aid from vanishing at a time when millions are struggling with debt, housing, and the cost-of-living crisis.

The government’s review of civil legal aid is not expected to report until 2024, with any recommendations taking even longer to implement. Urgent investment is needed if the civil legal aid system is to last until then. 

What you need to know

1. Labour reshuffle: new shadow justice secretary

This week, Labour leader Keir Starmer embarked on what is predicted to be his last major shadow cabinet reshuffle before the next general election.

Key appointments were made:

  • Angela Rayner – shadow levelling up and housing secretary
  • Jim McMahon stepped down as environment secretary, former shadow justice secretary Steve Reed replaced him
  • Shabana Mahmood – shadow justice secretary
  • Alex Cunningham – shadow courts and legal services minister
  • Kevin Brennan – shadow victims and sentencing minister
  • Janet Daby – shadow youth justice minister.

Shabana Mahmood, the MP for Birmingham Ladywood, had previously been tipped for the role and is thought of highly as a competent and diligent campaigner. Mahmood studied law at Lincoln College, Oxford. She is a qualified barrister, specialising in professional indemnity litigation. 

We have reached out to the new shadow justice secretary to congratulate her on her appointment and request a meeting to discuss the pressing issues facing the sector.

2. Conservative mini reshuffle: new defence minister

Following Ben Wallace’s resignation as defence secretary last week, prime minister Rishi Sunak’ cabinet underwent a mini reshuffle.

Grant Shapps, the former secretary of state for energy security and net zero, has taken over from Wallace.

Claire Coutinho, a close ally of the prime minister, has been appointed as Wallace’s successor for the defence brief.

It had been rumoured that Sunak would undertake a more extensive reshuffle but, for now, he has only moved the occupants of these two posts.

3. Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill back in the Commons

Parliament is back, and with it the next stage of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill.

Ministers are keen to get the Bill over the line and ensure they have royal assent before MPs break again for conference recess.

On Monday 4 September, the Bill was in the Commons for consideration of Lords amendments.

The government had tabled motions to disagree or amend most of the changes recommended by peers.

We were focused on three:

  • amendment 23 on a requirement to disclose information on beneficial nominees
  • amendment 115 which sought to increase reporting of updates to the Register of Overseas Entities
  • amendment 117 on transparency of trusts data

While we are generally supportive of the intention behind these recommendations from the Lords, we identified problems in the workability of the proposed measures.

The minister for enterprise, markets and small business, Kevin Hollinrake, led the debate for the government and successfully pushed through all the government’s motions.

When speaking on the motion to disagree with amendment 115, both the minister and the shadow minister referenced our concerns.

Seema Malhotra (Labour) noted “the concerns expressed by the Law Society and others about the current amendment.” She added, “We will not be voting on Lords amendment 115, but we believe that the government must look again at instituting a period informed by data and analysis which will close this evident loophole.”

The Bill now moves back to the Lords where peers can push back and tweak their original amendments if they wish.

We will continue to engage with the government to ensure that our concerns are heard.

4. Illegal migration: solicitors mentioned in minister’s statement

On Tuesday 5 September, the minister for immigration, Robert Jenrick, updated the Commons on the government’s work to stem the flow of small boat crossings.

During the statement, the minister reiterated the government’s commitment to increasing enforcement action against solicitors alleged to be facilitating illegal migration.

Labour failed to respond to the comments made against solicitors during the statement, with the minister pointing out that Labour have remained largely silent on the issue.

Conservative MP Jackie Doyle-Price welcomed the measures to crack down on immigration solicitors, encouraging the minister to look at all lawyers’ activities.

The minister responded that as a former solicitor himself, he means no harm to the profession but is pleased to see action levied against any solicitor caught acting inappropriately.

We believe it is right that any solicitors found to have acted in breach of their professional obligations should face appropriate sanction. However, we have emphasised to the government that such action should be taken through the appropriate regulatory structures.

We remain concerned about harmful rhetoric aimed at lawyers.

We have highlighted that there are fundamental flaws in the provisions of the government’s new Illegal Migration Act, which will need to be confronted if the Act is going to be made workable.

Coming up:

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

Victims and Prisoners Bill will next go to report stage in the Commons, on a date still to be confirmed.

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill will be back in the Lords for consideration of Commons amendments on 11 September.

Powers of Attorney Bill will have its Third Reading in the Lords on 13 September

Data Protection and Digital Information (No. 2) Bill will have its report stage in the Commons, date to be confirmed.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill continues its report stage proceedings on 13 September.

If you made it this far...
This week, we launched a three-year professional ethics programme and web hub to help our members balance their obligations to their clients and wider society.

The web hub is a one-stop-shop for member support with ethics issues and includes helpful resources such as guidance, case studies, event notifications and updates from the programme.

Our president Lubna Shuja said, “We hope this programme will help members navigate this evolving landscape, where potential tensions between the wider public interest and individual clients’ interests can create challenges for solicitors seeking to act ethically.”

Maximise your Law Society membership with My LS