Westminster update: Law Society mentioned in Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill debate

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. Law Society referenced in Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill debate

Last Tuesday, the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill completed committee stage in the House of Lords.

We briefed peers ahead of the debate on our concerns relating to safeguards on the use of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) and polygraph testing, and we supported amendments to address these. Our briefing was referenced twice during the debate, by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Conservative) and by Baroness Hamwee (Liberal Democrat).

Numerous peers reflected our concerns around clause 37, which would lower the standard of proof required to impose a TPIM, and clause 38, which would remove the statutory two year limit on the duration of a TPIM.

Lord Anderson of Ipswich (Crossbench) argued that “It is not simply that the case for reducing the standard [of proof] has not been made out – that case is refuted by the police evidence and by the words of the Commons Minister himself”, while Baroness McIntosh noted that the provisions appear to go against the views of the current Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation and legal practitioners such as solicitors on the front line.

The minister, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, argued that the necessity and proportionality tests are the key factors in establishing whether a TPIM is justified, and that these tests would not be affected by the provisions in the Bill. He further claimed that there is an operational need for TPIMs that can be renewed beyond two years to keep the public safe.

All amendments tabled around these issues were ultimately withdrawn. The Bill will now proceed to report stage on 3 March, at which peers will have a final opportunity to amend the Bill.

Read the transcript of the debate

2. Government announces cladding support for leaseholders

Last Wednesday, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, Robert Jenrick gave a statement outlining new support for leaseholders faced with significant costs for the removal of unsafe cladding from their homes. We've previously called for more government support for leaseholders facing such costs.

The secretary of state announced that an extra £3.5 billion will be allocated to ensure that leaseholders in buildings of at least 18 metres in height will face no costs for the removal of dangerous cladding, while those in buildings between 11 and 18 metres will have access to a finance scheme which will see them contribute no more than £50 a month to the costs of cladding removal.

The secretary of state also announced that this programme would be funded by a new “Gateway 2” levy on developers seeking permission to build high rise residential blocks, and a new tax on the residential property development sector. The design of this tax scheme will be subject to consultation in due course.

Read the statement in full

3. New Ministry of Justice permanent secretary appears before Public Accounts Committee

Last Thursday, the newly appointed permanent secretary of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Antonia Romeo, appeared before the Public Accounts Committee. She discussed her early priorities for the department, including her view of the courts backlog and her ambition to develop the department’s use of data.

Romeo noted the steps that are being taken to address the courts backlog, including remote hearings and the opening of 60 Nightingale courts, though she noted it is challenging to give a specific target or goal for reducing the backlog due to uncertainties around future cases and judicial decisions on listing.

The Committee raised the HMCTS courts reform programme and Romeo was clear that, though there had been previous delays, she was confident the programme would be delivered on time and the pandemic would not cause a slippage in its timelines.

Romeo sees data as one of her priorities as permanent secretary, and she said she wants to review how data is collected across the MoJ, how this data is brought together and how internal systems interact with each other. This would also involve looking at the work the department does on data modelling and if capacity in this area is as strong as it needs to be.

4. Law Society gives evidence on Gender Recognition Act reform

Last Wednesday, the Women and Equalities Committee held an oral evidence session as part of their ongoing inquiry into reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA), and our head of diversity and Inclusion, Sally Brett, was asked to join the panel.

Other members of the panel were:

  • Robin White, barrister at Old Square chambers and a member of the Employment Lawyers Association
  • Karen Monaghan QC, from Matrix Chambers
  • Naomi Cunningham, barrister at Outer Temple Chambers and representing the Legal Feminist Collective

The session covered whether or not the GRA needs to be reformed and whether the requirements for obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate needs to be reviewed. The panel were also asked about the interplay between the GRA and the Equalities Act 2010 and whether sufficient protections are afforded to those who have undergone, or are seeking to undergo, gender reassignment.

The majority of the panel agreed that some of the provisions in the GRA such as the requirement to live in the acquired gender for two years, and the need for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, should be reviewed.

There was also a discussion about whether statutory definitions relating to gender and sex should be re-examined, with the majority of the panel in agreement that this would need to be considered carefully through extensive consultation.

Watch the session

5. MPs debate integrated international review

Last Tuesday, the Commons held a backbench business debate on the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, which the government had announced in February 2020 and which has not yet been released.

Shadow Middle East and North Africa minister Wayne David pressed the government on the delay to the report, asking the Minister to be precise on when it would be forthcoming, having pushed back the expected publication date several times.

He said that the Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office merger “had little strategic thought behind it” and had precipitated a cut in the UK’s aid budget “at a time when the world is in crisis and there is more need for development aid than ever before.

The Middle East and North Africa minister, James Cleverly, responded by arguing that the review is ambitious and wide-reaching, and said it would be published in March 2021. He said the prime minister is personally leading the review, and that development cuts are temporary and due to the pandemic, while reiterating the government’s intention to “deepen involvement in the Indo-Pacific.”

He said the UK was marking its place as a global leader by hosting the Gavi vaccine summit last year, and claimed the integrated review will “send a message about what the UK stands for as an independent actor on the global stage.”

Read the debate

Coming up next week

Parliament will be in recess next week and will return on 22 February.

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