Westminster update: Retained EU Law Bill

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

Read our briefing for the Illegal Migration Bill, now it has entered the Lords.

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 

What you need to know

1. Retained EU Law: sunset scrapped

We welcomed the announcement from the government that the Retained EU Law Bill will be amended to scrap the proposed sunset clause.

As drafted, the bill would have seen retained EU law revoked by default at the end of 2023 unless a statutory instrument were passed preserving it.

In place of the sunset clause, 600 pieces of retained EU law will be set out in the bill for revocation, and we will closely look at the detail of those pieces of legislation to understand the potential impact on our members.

We continue to have wider concerns regarding the bill, notably on parliamentary scrutiny of future legislative changes.

The bill was scheduled for report stage in the House of Lords on Monday 15 May.

2. Lords divided on Illegal Migration Bill

The Illegal Migration Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on Wednesday 10 May and did not receive the support from Conservative peers that the government might have hoped for.

Many Conservative peers spoke of their concerns with the bill.

Figures such as Baroness Sugg and Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate said they were uncomfortable with the bill breaching international law.

Lord Kirkhope said: “they are using extreme rhetoric and, in implementing their Rwandan scheme, flagrantly ignoring laws—not only the 1951 refugee convention but other international agreements and, of course, the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Lord Garnier also said that he believed the bill to be unworkable, and that it would not achieve its aims.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth said that the bill “does not deal with the asylum backlog, nor does it do anything to bring to book traffickers… I question whether this legislation will have the deterrent effect that is argued for”.

Labour and Liberal Democrat peers were united in their opposition to the bill, with several Liberal Democrat peers going as far as to vote for a fatal amendment put forward by one of their own, Lord Paddick.

Labour abstained from this vote. It fell at 76 votes to 179, owing to Conservative peers voting it down.

The bill will begin committee stage on 24 May.

3. EU mobility: Law Society gives evidence in Parliament

The Law Society gave evidence to a Conservative European Forum session in Parliament on opportunities to improve the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) on Thursday 11 May.

Speaking to a panel comprising:

  • former lord chancellor David Lidington
  • Conservative MP Stephen Hammond
  • Conservative peer Lord Tugendhat

Our international policy manager, Marco Cillario, outlined our key asks for the upcoming review of the TCA:

  • allowing UK lawyers on shortterm business visas in the EU to provide legal advice
  • securing a commitment on visa processing
  • making it easier for UK companies to second staff to the EU
  • implementing the existing provisions in the TCA on transparency

There was consensus amongst witnesses at the session that post-Brexit mobility is a key challenge.

Cillario noted that the increased complexity of the current system is simply deterring lawyers from even attempting to travel to the EU and as a result is harming our competitiveness in comparison to EU lawyers.

Though not linked to the TCA, the Lugano Convention was brought up by Lidington.

Cillario argued that the UK should not give up on seeking accession to the Convention, as it not only benefits UK lawyers, but also EU citizens.

The Conservative European Forum is taking evidence from a number of organisations over the course of this year, with a view to publishing a report with recommendations for the government on how to approach the forthcoming review of the TCA.

4. Legal aid for special guardians: welcome extension, but Government should go further

The government has announced that from May, people seeking and responding to special guardianship orders (SGOs) will be eligible for legal aid in private family law proceedings.

SGOs are one way that relatives or family friends can step in to take care of a child who cannot be raised by their parents, avoiding the need for them to go into care.

While a positive step, which we have long called for, we believe legal aid in these situations should be non-means tested.

Often, special guardians are grandparents, who may be excluded from legal aid by the capital in their home, but do not have enough income from a pension to afford legal costs.

It would be better for the children involved, as well as the public purse, if legal aid for special guardians were non-means tested.

Last year, we gave evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kinship Care's report on kinship care.

We supported its call for non-means tested free legal advice for kinship carers to ensure they know their rights and can secure a child’s future.

Read our evidence

Coming up:

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

If you made it this far...

We recently launched our milestone climate change guidance.

The release of the guidance on the impact of climate change on solicitors follows on from our commitment to our Climate Change Resolution in 2021.

“The effects of climate change – even on legal practices – are wide-ranging and constantly evolving,” said our president Lubna Shuja.

“Solicitors should be aware of this changing landscape and its potential impact upon their organisations, as well as on the legal advice they provide.”

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