Westminster update: Retained EU Law Bill ping pong begins

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.
The palace of Westminster in the evening.
Photograph: Thomas Riebesehl

One thing you need to do 

Discover our campaign on civil legal aid provision and look at our legal aid desert maps

Civil legal aid is a lifeline for those in crisis, whether they are facing an eviction or appealing a welfare decision. But legal aid deserts, where there is no local access to a civil legal aid provider, are growing.

We have welcomed the ongoing review of civil legal aid, but urgent investment is needed now to stop more people being cut off from the legal help they need.

Across England and Wales:

  • in welfare, 84% of the population do not have access to a legal aid provider in their local authority
  • in immigration and asylum, 66% of the population do not have access to a legal aid provider in their local authority
  • in housing, 42% of the population of England and Wales do not have a legal aid provider in their local authority
  • in education, over 53 million people do not have a legal aid provider in their local authority
  • in community care, over 42 million people do not have access to a local legal aid provider in their local authority

See if your area is a legal aid desert

What you need to know

1. Retained EU Law Bill: ping pong begins

The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill was presented to the Commons for consideration of Lords’ amendments on Wednesday 24 May.

The debate was led by solicitor general Michael Tomlinson MP and focused on amendments made in the Lords and proposed government changes.

The removal of the sunset clause was largely supported. However, the government sought to remove the requirement that all EU law scheduled to be revoked will be referred to a joint committee.

The solicitor general argued that this frees up more time to concentrate on the retained list and target more legislation for the revocation schedule.

We have argued in favour of retaining parliamentary scrutiny of the revocation process.

Other concerns expressed included:

  • a lack of a non-regression clause
  • insufficient time for parliamentary scrutiny of the laws on the revocation schedule
  • ministerial powers to continue to revoke laws up until 2026

The Lords amendment from Baroness Noakes (Conservative) on the reporting requirement was accepted by the Commons, with additional reporting timescales introduced. We welcome this step.

A number of MPs reflected our concerns over scrutiny and ministerial powers in their remarks.

The bill will be back in the Lords on 6 June for consideration of Commons amendments.

2. Illegal Migration Bill: where is the impact assessment?

The Illegal Migration Bill had its most recent phase of scrutiny on Wednesday 24 May, when the House of Lords held day one of its committee stage.

Many peers expressed unhappiness that they were having to scrutinise the bill without the benefit of an impact assessment, which are usually provided alongside a bill's initial publication.

Lord German (Liberal Democrat) said: "it is for the government to make their case to parliament. If they cannot do so, because they have not got the document, because the document is not sufficiently robust or because it is not available, then the minister should be able to tell us that right now, so that we know the basis on which we are judging this bill".

Most of the debate focused on the potential illegality of the bill, with several on the opposition benches remaining unconvinced that the bill will be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and several UN treaties.

While the minister tried to assure the house that, in the government's view, nothing in the bill requires the UK to breach its international obligations, questions were asked about why the provisions of the bill are being removed from the scope of section 3 of the Human Rights Act.

Baroness Ludford said: "removing the scope of section three of the Human Rights Act suggests that the government are in fact worried about the provisions of this bill being incompatible with our international law obligations under the ECHR".

"If human rights compliance is truly sought by this government, why is it necessary to oust the duty to do nothing more than interpret the bill in accordance with the Human Rights Act?"

3. Civil legal aid: means test review announced

The government published its means test review on 25 May, which will expand legal aid eligibility.

The review builds on our report led by Professor Donald Hirsch and means that millions of extra people should now be able to receive free advice when they are facing life-changing legal problems.

The continued passporting of victims of abuse on universal credit is welcome, but we have made clear we would like to see this go further with non-means tested legal aid in these cases and universal credit considered a passporting benefit in all cases.

We will be looking at the detail to understand if the proposals have addressed our concerns regarding the relative disadvantage for lone parent families.

Our president Lubna Shuja said: “Widening eligibility for civil and criminal legal aid is an important step in the right direction and something we have long been pushing for".

"Legal aid is a lifeline for people, usually living in poverty, to help them in moments of crisis such as when they are facing eviction or seeking protection from a violent partner for themselves and their children. Millions of extra people should now be able to receive free advice when they are facing life-changing legal problems.”

Read the full press release

4. Attorney general addresses rape prosecution rates

The attorney general was questioned about the inadequate approach to rape prosecutions on Thursday 25 May. 

Dr Rupa Huq (Labour) said that many rape prosecutions are dropped owing to witnesses withdrawing their support – largely due to three year waits and a victim-blaming culture. She said that the system is failing rape victims.

Ruth Cadbury (Labour) too said that the number of charges for domestic abuse and violence has failed to keep pace with the rise in reported offences.

The attorney general replied that tackling violence against women and girls remains a top priority for the government and said that the government have increased the money available to support victims fourfold in recent times.

She said that since the launch of the joint action plan, there has been a significant increase in charge volumes for adult rape, adding that they are rolling out something similar for domestic abuse cases.

Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry asked if it is true that lots of rape cases are ending with the suspect being charged with a lesser offence, and that these are being counted towards the charge rate for rape, even though nobody has been charged with a rape offence.

The attorney general said that she has asked for further clarity on the report that claimed this.

Coming up:

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

If you made it this far...

Read our briefing for the Illegal Migration Bill.

The Bill brings forward a range of comprehensive restrictions on asylum claims from those arriving in the UK by unofficial routes.

The briefing contains our views on the following areas, where we have repeatedly raised our concerns:

  • non-compliance with international law
  • access to justice
  • unworkability

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