Westminster update: Law Society launches new campaign

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

Palace of Westminster

One thing you need to do

Last Friday we issued a joint statement with the Bar Council of England and Wales to say we'll not support any steps to remove the right to jury trials.

Barristers and solicitors will continue to play their fundamental part in keeping the justice system afloat. They are already adopting new ways of working successfully to drive justice forward but the rule of law must not be undermined.

Read the joint statement

Five things you need to know

1. Return, Restart, Recovery: Law Society launches new campaign

Last Tuesday we launched our new Return, Restart, Recovery campaign – a campaign to support the national recovery effort from coronavirus and reinforce the role solicitors and their firms will play.

The campaign will comprise of three stages:

  • supporting solicitors and firms to return to their offices safely
  • leveraging the legal service sector’s expertise to restart the economy
  • empowering solicitors and law firms to drive the recovery after coronavirus

To mark the launch of the campaign, we've written to HM Treasury to outline measures that the government can take to help support the legal sector in achieving this mission.

Our submission includes specific recommendations that cover all three stages of the campaign, and have been designed so as to comprise a comprehensive and holistic programme for recovery across all sectors of the UK economy and all segments of society.

The campaign will also seek to provide bespoke support to solicitors and their firms as they move through each of the three stages on the road to recovery.

We've produced a support package for individual solicitors that are going through redundancy, or face uncertainty as the furlough scheme comes to an end. The package includes:

  • a career clinic
  • free access to the Law Society’s L&D platform
  • a pairing scheme
  • access to our partner’s resources

We'll also be providing support to firms that might be going through financial hardship, and particularly those that are exploring a different way of providing legal services. This will focus on:

  • guidance on transitioning to virtual operations
  • a practice note on the employment law implications of reorganising your business
  • Lawtech support and advice for law firms who might be struggling with technology
  • publicising the Law Management Section’s ‘Managing in Recession’ coronavirus toolkit

More services will be added to this support package over the course of the campaign which will run from July until October.

Find out more about the campaign

Read our submission to the Treasury

Find our support package for individual solicitors

2. Private International Law Bill passes Lords

Last Monday the Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill received its third reading in the Lords. It passed and has been sent to the Commons to complete the requisite stages there. We briefed before debate, which saw our arguments raised by multiple peers.

There were three amendments moved, one by government spokesman Lord Keen and two by shadow attorney general Lord Falconer. These all related to Lord Falconer’s successful amendment at report stage removing the controversial Clause 2 (containing broad delegated powers) from the face of the Bill.

Throughout the debate all speakers agreed that these amendments – which were to the long title and schedules of the Bill – were necessary after the removal of Clause 2.

Lord Falconer and other peers expressed their wish that the government took on board their critique, and the views of the Delegated Legislation Committee and Constitution Committee, rather than simply using their majority in the Commons to restore Clause 2.

Liberal Democrat Lord Thomas of Gresford and Conservative Lord Garnier both argued that criminal law should not be made or amended in secondary legislation, a point TLS has made throughout the passage of the Bill. In response, Lord Keen argued that this is “a situation that has obtained for almost 50 years since the European Communities Act 1972.”

Lord Keen referred twice to the UK’s application to accede to the Lugano Convention, and argued that it was implementing conventions like these that necessitated the delegated powers that were in the original draft of the Bill. Crossbencher Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who TLS briefed before the Bill, said of Lugano:

“It is universally agreed among lawyers that although it may not be the best solution, it is probably the best available solution to the position that we are likely to find ourselves in at the end of the year. It is of the upmost importance to many in the United Kingdom economy, but in particular also to those who conduct legal business in London, that we adhere to the Lugano convention… Any delay in the matter of the reciprocal enforcement and recognition of judgments can do nothing but damage the position of the United Kingdom as a whole and in particular London as a dispute resolution centre.”

Read the third reading debate

3. MP’s criticise indefinite detention during Immigration Bill debate

Last Tuesday the Immigration and Social Security (EU Withdrawal) Bill had its report stage and third reading.

During the debate, many MP’s spoke to the importance of a series of amendments aimed at reducing the amount of time someone can be placed in immigration detention to 28 days, which we had briefed in support of.

Conservative backbencher David Davis MP, who tabled the amendments, said of indefinite detention:

“Its operation has been severely criticised by the chief inspector of prisons, the chief inspector of borders, the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Law Society and the Bar Council—quite a bunch of radicals, I would say.”

Many other members spoke of the importance of reducing immigration detention to 28 days, with Liberal Democrat, SNP, Labour, and DUP MPs all voicing support throughout the debate.

Immigration and future borders minister Kevin Foster MP argued in response that the 2018 Shaw Report on detention judged that there was not a “coherent account of how exactly a proposal for a 28-day time limit had been arrived at” and that the Government agreed with this view.

He acknowledged that “the whole asylum and removal system needs to work much faster and more cleanly, plus more fairly,” and said that the Home Office was working to reform the law in this area.

He said that government intended to “further reduce the need for longer periods of detention for the public good,” but did not give details of measures.

Only one of the amendments on a 28 day detention limit was pressed to a vote, and it was defeated by a margin of 332 – 252. The Bill passed its third reading by a margin of 342 – 248.

Read the third reading and report stage debate

4. MPs consider amendments to the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill

Last Tuesday members of the Public Bill Committee began line-by-line scrutiny of the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill.

One amendment tabled by the government which made technical changes to ensure that measures in the Bill applied consistently in Northern Ireland was agreed to, while a further 8 amendments tabled by opposition MPs were either withdrawn or defeated.

Amendment 35, tabled by Alex Cunningham MP (shadow justice minister), aimed to ensure that the provisions of the Bill allowing a judge to find a terrorist connection to an offence can only be used if the court is satisfied that there is a terrorist connection “beyond all reasonable doubt”.

Following an assurance from the justice minister, Chris Philp MP, that this is already the case in law, the amendment was withdrawn. Cunningham however asked that later during the passage of the Bill the government consider the case for a review of how the existing legislation on this point is working.

Cunningham also moved amendments 36 and 42, which would have required the secretary of state to commission analyses of the equalities impact of proposals to allow courts to identify terrorist connections to specific offences and provisions to extend sentences for certain offenders. Chris Philp stated that this has already been done via the impact assessment carried out prior to the introduction of the Bill, and Cunningham subsequently withdrew his amendment.

Three more amendments moved by Cunningham – amendments 37, 45 and 46, which would have required courts to consider the age of people under 21 found guilty of serious terrorism offences when deciding on sentences – were taken to a vote by were defeated by eight votes to six.

Read the full transcript

5. Prime minister gives speech on UK economy

Last Tuesday the prime minister gave a speech on the UK’s economic recovery at the Dudley College of Technology.

The focus of the speech was the government’s plans to “build back better, build back greener” post-COVID-19.

In his remarks, the prime minister said he was “setting out how the UK economy would recover as the country came out of hibernation with lockdown being lifted”. The prime minister stated that the chancellor would be setting out the next phase of the government’s economic recovery plan next week.

The prime minister announced £142m for digital upgrades and maintenance to around 100 courts in 2020, £83m for maintenance of prisons and youth offender facilities and £60m for temporary prison places. This is something we've been lobbying the government for.

He also announced support for the high streets including £900m for a range of ‘shovel ready’ local growth projects in England over the course of 2020 and 2021; £96m to accelerate investment in town centres and high streets through the Towns Fund in 2020. This will provide all 101 towns selected for town deals with £500k-£1m to spend on projects such as improvements to parks, high streets, and transport.

The prime minister announced new regulations to give greater freedom for building and land in town centres to use without planning permission and create new homes from the regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings. The government will bring forward a Local Recovery White Paper detailing how the UK Government will partner with places across the UK to build a sustainable economic recovery.

In the Autumn, the government will publish a National Infrastructure Strategy which will set its direction on core economic infrastructure, including energy networks, road and rail, flood defences and waste.

In relation to healthcare, the prime minister said his government is finalising plans on reforming social care and pledged £1.5bn in 2020 for hospital maintenance, eradicating mental health dormitories, enabling hospital building, and improving A&E capacity.

The prime minister concluded his speech by saying that building back better would help the UK “bounce forward”.

Read the full transcript of the speech

Coming up this week

This week will see the Domestic Abuse Bill have its remaining stages in the House of Commons, while the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill will be back at committee stage on both Tuesday and Thursday.

There will be a financial statement by the chancellor of the exchequer on Wednesday, followed by a general debate.

The attorney general and DCMS ministerial team will be answering oral questions on Thursday. There will be an oral evidence session of the BEIS Committee on Thursday which will look at the work of the department and government response to coronavirus.

In the Lords, the Business and Planning Bill will have its second reading on Monday, the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee is having an oral evidence session on UK-US trade negotiations on Wednesday and on Thursday, Simon Davis is giving evidence before the Constitution Committee oral evidence session on the constitutional implications of COVID-19.

View all upcoming parliamentary business

If you made it this far

Leicester law firms are braced for second lockdown, as the city enters the UK's first local lockdown.

Read the Gazette article