Administrative and public law

Westminster update: Boris Johnson survives confidence vote

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

Read our response to the government’s consultations on criminal legal aid and the means test.

Our criminal justice system is at a make-or-break moment. Without serious intervention, including implementing the 15% increase in all criminal legal aid rates, the system may collapse.

What you need to know

1. Boris Johnson survives confidence vote

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a vote of confidence in his leadership amongst Conservative MPs by 211 votes to 148 votes on Monday 6 June. The result means that under current Conservative Party rules there can be no further votes of confidence in his leadership for a period of 12 months.

However, the result was tighter than those around the Prime Minister were predicting, and with over 41% of his own MPs expressing no confidence in his leadership the pressure and speculation around his leadership will likely continue in the coming days and weeks.

2. Sir Christopher Bellamy appointed justice minister

The Ministry of Justice announced on Tuesday 7 June that Sir Christopher Bellamy QC has been appointed as a justice minister, following the resignation of Lord Wolfson earlier in the year.

Sir Christopher led the recent Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid, which recommended a 15% increase in all criminal legal aid rates as the minimum necessary to put criminal legal aid on a sustainable footing.

Sir Christopher is a former judge and barrister, specialising in European, competition and regulatory law.

We look forward to working closely with Sir Christopher during his time in government. He will be appointed to the House of Lords.

3. National Security Bill passes second reading

The National Security Bill had its second reading this week, passing the Commons with Labour broadly supporting the bill alongside the government. The bill will modernise the UK’s espionage laws and bring in a series of changes intended to protect national security.

One provision will bar those with terrorist convictions from accessing civil legal aid. The Law Society has opposed this element, arguing:

  • it is unlikely to enhance national security
  • will curtail access to justice, and
  • may remove the concept of rehabilitation from the justice system.

Conservative MP David Davis highlighted an example from our briefing note for MPs. He argued that the provision could lead to someone convicted of terrorism 20 years ago being barred from seeking an injunction against a domestic abuser, and called for the bill to be amended to prevent this outcome.

The government has said it will introduce a Foreign Influence Registration Scheme (FIRS) to the bill at a later stage.

Sir Bob Neill, chair of the Justice Select Committee, argued that there should be an exemption for legal professional privilege, a position we share. He highlighted the example of Australia, which included this exemption in its own similar scheme.

We will continue to work with parliamentarians and the government to ensure the bill does not reduce access to justice, while protecting national security.

4. APPG on Democracy and the Constitution Report

On Wednesday 8 June, the APPG on Democracy and the Constitution released a report as part of its inquiry into the impact of the actions and rhetoric of the Executive since 2016 on the constitutional role of the Judiciary.

The report investigated how:

  • ministers and members of the executive have verbally attacked the judiciary, and
  • how the Lord Chancellor might be neglecting his duty to protect the judiciary from such attacks, and from encroaching influences from the government

The report found:

  • ministers have failed to act constitutionally by attacking judges, and
  • constitutional safeguards to protect the judiciary are not sufficiently effective.

Recommendations made included:

  • the government should highlight the independence of the judiciary in the upcoming independent review of the Constitutional Reform Act, and
  • provide statutory guidance to ministers on their constitutional duties towards the judiciary and on the appointment and conduct of law officers

5. Law Society mentioned in Telecommunications Bill debate

The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill completed its second reading in the House of Lords this week.

The bill will:

  • improve connectivity
  • increase the cybersecurity of smart devices, and
  • prevent insecure products being sold in the UK

We were mentioned by the Earl of Devon. He highlighted our views on land leases for telecommunication infrastructure and our concern that the bill had tilted the balance of rights too heavily in favour of operators to assist them in securing site facilities.

Coming up

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

If you made it this far...
Read our response to the legal challenges brought against the UK Government's plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Law Society vice president Lubna Shuja said that such challenges are "a safety net that ensure Government is acting lawfully, following laws agreed by a democratic parliament."

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