Westminster update: Lord Chancellor questioned by Joint Committee on Human Rights

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.

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Five things you need to know

1. Lord Chancellor gives evidence on human rights

On Wednesday 14 July the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) questioned the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland on topics relating to human rights.

During the session MPs and Peers quizzed the Lord Chancellor on the Human Rights Act review. The Committee chair Harriet Harman (Labour) asked why the Lord Chancellor was pursuing the review, when evidence gathered by the JCHR had been overwhelmingly positive about the Human Rights Act.

The Lord Chancellor argued that as it has been 20 years since the act was passed the government was obligated to ensure it still worked and to look at how it could be updated.

The Lord Chancellor also criticised the committee for not gathering evidence from individuals with a more diverse range of opinions on the Human Rights Act.

Harriet Harman responded by saying the evidence that was gathered was within the remit of the review and that she was disappointed the Lord Chancellor had chosen to “throw up a smokescreen to pre-emptively discredit what was given in evidence” to the committee.

The committee also questioned the Lord Chancellor on judicial review. In response to a question from Joanna Cherry (SNP), the Lord Chancellor expressed his support for the fundamental importance of judicial review. He said that the purpose of the judicial review reforms are to strike the right balance between the courts and the Government, to ensure the courts are not brought into the political arena.

Watch the committee session

2. Statute of limitations proposed for Troubles-related incidents

On Wednesday 14 July the Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, made a statement on 'addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past'. He has laid before the House a paper that proposes a series of measures to address this legacy, which included three key proposals: 

  • a statute of limitations, to apply equally to all troubles-related incidents – this would end all criminal prosecutions, and the government argues it is the best way to facilitate an effective information retrieval and provision process, and to help Northern Ireland move further along the road to reconciliation
  • a new independent body that would focus on the recovery and provision of information about troubles-related deaths and serious injuries – this body would be focused on helping families to find out the truth of what happened to their loved ones
  • a major oral history initiative, consistent with what was included in the Stormont House Agreement; this initiative would create opportunities for people from all backgrounds to share their experiences and perspectives related to the troubles – and, crucially, to learn about those of others

Lewis argued that it is “increasingly clear to us that the ongoing retributive criminal justice processes are - far from helping - impeding the successful delivery of information recovery, mediation and reconciliation that could provide a sense of restorative justice for many more families than is currently the case.”

He went on to say that this will “deliver on our commitment to veterans who served in Northern Ireland. We will provide certainty for former members of the security forces, many of whom remain fearful of the prospect of being the subject of investigations that will hang over them for years to come, even though the vast majority acted in accordance with the law, and often at great personal risk.”

Read the NI Secretary’s statement

Read the paper on addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past

3. PM gives speech on levelling up agenda

On Thursday 15 July the Prime Minister gave a speech on his levelling up agenda at a battery production centre in Coventry.

The major announcement of the speech centred on Johnson’s call for greater devolution to local areas.

Johnson argued that devolution had helped previously declining cities to reverse their fortunes. He said these powers should be extended to other areas such as towns and counties. He asked for potential local leaders to approach the government with their plan for “strong and accountable local leadership”.

The speech also served as an opportunity for Johnson to reassure southern Conservative MPs that the flagship policy will not favour the Conservative’s new northern constituencies at the expense of their traditional southern heartlands.

Johnson stressed that richer parts of the country would not be made poorer due to the levelling up agenda. He said that greater investment across the UK would benefit London and the South-East by strengthening the UK’s economy.

He also argued the levelling up agenda would take pressure off “overheating” parts of the economy, such as London, where  ever greater investment had resulted in mass migration, increases to the cost of housing, strains on local travel infrastructure and a lowering of living standards. 

Watch the speech

4. Home Office Ministers questioned by MPs

On Monday 12 July the Home Office ministerial team was questioned by MPs in a session that covered people smuggling, the border force, and the EU settlement scheme.

Sir Edward Leigh, a Conservative backbencher, branded a recent decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute those who arrive in the UK illegally “ridiculous”. He went on to accuse “corrupt human rights lawyers” of delaying administrative removal channels and expressed worry about where this leaves the new Nationality and Borders Bill, which he supported.

Immigration minister Chris Philp responded for the government, saying that the bill “critically contains provisions that will close some of the loopholes that may have led to the CPS’s recent decision and will make it clear that any attempt to arrive in the United Kingdom from a safe place, such as France, will be rightly treated as a criminal offence.”

The Law Society’s briefing ahead of the bill’s second reading, which illustrates the important role of lawyers in the asylum system and suggests improvements to the legislation, will be available on our website from Monday next week.

Read the transcript

5. Environment bill completes Lords committee stage

On Wednesday 14 July the Environment Bill completed its House of Lords committee stage. The committee has sat for a total of eight times, every Monday and Wednesday since 21 June.

The Law Society briefed key peers prior to commencement of the committee stage. During the sittings numerous peers echoed the Law Society’s concerns regarding the independence and enforcement powers of the newly formed Office for Environmental protection.

The bill will progress to its House of Lords report stage after parliament returns from its summer recess on 6 September.

Read Mondays session

Read Wednesdays session

Coming up 

Parliament is due to break up for recess next Thursday (22 July - 6 September), but Law Society will continue to work closely with MPs and peers to influence bills and inquiries:

The Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill

The bill started its progression through the House of Lords last week, and the date for its second reading has yet to be confirmed. We will be briefing key peers ahead of the next debate.

Read our briefing for the bill's House of Commons committee stage

Environment Bill

This week the bill completed its House of Lords committee stage. The date of the report stage is yet to be confirmed.

Professional Qualifications Bill

The next stage of the bill will be its House of Lords report stage, the date of which is has not yet been confirmed. 

Read our briefing on the bill

Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill

The Law Society will be preparing briefs for the House of Lords report stage, due to take place on Tuesday 20 July, and is working with peers to bring forward amendments.

Building Safety Bill

The bill is scheduled to have its House of Commons second reading on Wednesday 21 July. The Law Society is currently preparing briefings for MPs which will be circulated prior to the debate. 

The Nationality and Borders Bill

The bill will be having its House of Commons second reading over two days on Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 July, and the Law Society will be briefing MPs before the debate. 

Public Service Pension and Judicial Bill

The date for the bill's upcoming House of Commons first reading has not yet been confirmed, although it is expected to take place before parliament goes on recess on 22 July. 

Inquiries

The Law Society will be submitting written evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry into co-habiting couples by the deadline of 31 July. We will also be responding to a Ministry of Justice consultation on proposals to increase probate fees, which will run until 23 September. 

The Law Society will also be briefing MPs in preparation for upcoming oral questions for the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government 19 July and the Foreign Office 20 July. 

If you made it this far...

This week the Law Society has called for urgent action to challenge the continuing lack of diversity in the judiciary. 

Read our press release