Your weekly update from our public affairs team…
Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.
On Monday 22 March, I. Stephanie Boyce, president of the Law Society, delivered her first presidential address.
She used the speech to set out her priorities for her term, which include increasing diversity, inclusion and social mobility and improving access to justice and technology.
On Wednesday 24 March the Lords EU services sub-committee published the report from its inquiry into EU-UK trade in services. We submitted written evidence and head of international, Mickael Laurans, appeared before the committee in early February.
We were mentioned and quoted several times in the report, particularly around the reservations in the annexes of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).
The report recognises that legal services, and more widely professional and business services, are ‘a vital feature of the UK economy’ and together make up ‘the UK’s largest export.’
It acknowledges that the TCA’s market access provisions are limited by ‘extensive national reservations,’ and recommends that the government urgently publish its advice on these.
It observes that, on recognition of qualifications, the TCA replicates the EU-Canada agreement model, under which no mutual recognition agreements have been concluded in the three years since it took force.
It therefore recommends that professional bodies and regulators conclude mutual recognition agreements as soon as possible, and encourages updates from the government on how and when support will be provided.
It also suggests that a future EU-UK agreement on recognition of qualifications would be a ‘major improvement,’ and encourages the government to seek one.
On mobility, the report observes that the impact of provisions has been delayed due to the pandemic, but will be felt once international business travel resumes.
The committee welcomed the government’s proposed country-by-country guidance on business travel, and urged that this be “timely, detailed and easy for business to use”.
On Wednesday 24 March the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, made a statement in the House of Commons covering the government’s new plan for immigration.
Patel said the government has introduced a points-based system and ended free movement, and now intends to restructure the asylum system.
She argued that those entering from "safe countries" are choosing the best country for them, not seeking asylum, and that the ‘capacity of our asylum system is not unlimited.’
She claimed parallel routes are unfair to those waiting to be legally resettled in the UK, and that the system is open to exploitation by ‘economic migrants’ and criminals.
She said the asylum system is near overwhelmed, with over 100,000 claims waiting to be addressed.
She announced that:
SNP spokesperson for justice and immigration Anne McLaughlin (SNP) raised the issue of UN conventions which restrict countries from penalising refugees and asylum-seekers on their method of arrival.
Patel said the UN refugee convention allows for differentiated treatment when refugees have not come directly from a "country of persecution."
On Wednesday 24 March the Justice Minister Lord Wolfson appeared before the justice select committee as part of their inquiries on court capacity and the future of legal aid.
We were referenced during the session and our engagement on civil legal aid was highlighted.
Questioned about the courts backlog, Lord Wolfson argued the size of the backlog was not as important as the throughput of cases through the system. He was also confident the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill would not have a negative impact on court capacity due to increased demand.
Asked about the financial pressures on legal aid firms, Lord Wolfson said that the best way to solve this is by increasing the number of trials that are ongoing.
Though he could not offer a timeframe for implementation of the criminal legal aid review once it reports back, Lord Wolfson said he would go through the recommendations as soon as he had them. It was also confirmed during the session that the review of the civil legal aid means test will begin in late spring.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce has been appointed to a government-backed taskforce this week to boost socio-economic diversity at senior levels within professional and financial services.
The independent taskforce was launched by the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and is being run by City of London Corporation.
The taskforce aims to improve social mobility and career progression across professional services and to explore the impact of social mobility and other protected characteristics, including gender and race.
Over 80 organisations across a range of sub-sectors and regions are involved in the taskforce, shaping its outputs and working towards greater socio-economic diversity at senior levels across UK financial and professional services.
On Thursday 25 March the House of Commons voted by 484 votes to 76 in favour of renewing the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020, extending the government's emergency legislation for a further six months.
Before the vote, we briefed MPs on provisions in the act which weaken statutory protections for vulnerable people in care settings.
In its one year status report on the Coronavirus Act, published in the days leading up to Thursday’s vote, the government committed to expiring the provisions under Schedule 12 to the act.
The provisions allow for some temporary relaxations – referred to as 'easements' – of the statutory duties on local authorities under the Care Act 2014, and the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.
We called for the 'easements' to be expired at the six month review of the act in September 2020, and have welcomed the government’s decision to expire this provision after the Easter recess.
While debating the motion, Jonathan Ashworth (shadow minister for health and social care), Munira Wilson (liberal democrat) and Caroline Nokes (conservative) all expressed their support for the decision to end the Care Act “easements”.
Other topics raised during the debate included the act’s effects on individual freedoms and the negative impacts of the current lockdown.
Last Thursday 18 March saw the publication of the Independent Review of Administrative Law’s report on reform of judicial review.