This week: the Lords adopt our Environment Bill recommendations and debate raising the judicial retirement age, while government is questioned on…
Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.
This week, the Law Society warned that inappropriate use of remote hearings may impede justice and the rule of the law in family courts.
On Tuesday (29 June) the Justice Select Committee questioned Lord Kakkar, Chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), and other senior JAC officials on their work on promoting diversity in the judiciary.
The Law Society was referenced a number of times throughout the session, with particular focus given to our work on encouraging solicitors to apply to judicial roles and our concerns that the number of judicial appointments from non-barrister backgrounds has declined.
Lord Kakkar gave his assessment that diversity is improving among the judiciary, with an increase in the number of appointments of women and those from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Lord Kakkar also noted the ‘complex ecosystem’ the JAC operates in and that progress depends on the legal professions increasing their diversity too.
The Committee pressed Lord Kakkar for a timescale for increasing diversity in judicial appointments and whether targets could help this work. However, he argued that targets would be inappropriate given the JAC’s role to appoint on merit. He also said that it was not possible to give timeframes given the system the JAC worked within.
Asked for suggestions on ways to improve diversity in the judiciary, Lord Kakkar said that giving the Judicial Diversity Forum an increased role to mandate change could help.
He also wanted to see schemes driven forward that could help those in the profession wishing enter the judiciary to gain the experience and skills they need.
This week the Environment Bill had the third and fourth sittings of its House of Lords committee stage on Monday (28 June) and Wednesday (30 June).
On Monday, peers debated two amendments supported by the Law Society.
The first amendment sought to increase the independence of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), by watering down measures that would give the Secretary of State the sole authority to appoint the OEP’s chair and non-executive members.
The second amendment aimed to remove a clause from the bill. This would limit the independence of the OEP by allowing the secretary of state to issue guidance to the OEP on matters relating to its enforcement policy, which the OEP must have regard to in preparing the enforcement policy and exercising its enforcement functions.
Responding to the first amendment, Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park said that relevant committees had played a role in confirming Dame Glenys, the secretary of state’s choice for the first chair of the OEP, and this practice was expected to continue.
With regard to the second amendment, the minister said this aspect of the bill did not threaten the OEP’s independence, as the OEP has a statutory duty to act objectively and impartially. Ultimately neither amendment was moved.
On Wednesday, peers debated an amendment supported by the Law Society that would remove the restrictions in the bill which limit the discretion of a court to grant a remedy where the court has found there to be a breach on environmental law.
The Law Society is concerned that including these tests on the face of the bill risks unduly fettering judicial discretion over the awarding of remedies.
In his response to the amendment, the minister said that the restrictions on the court’s ability to apply remedies would allow the OEP to have a more collaborative process of investigation and notices. The amendment was not moved.
On Tuesday (29 June) the lord chancellor and his ministerial team answered questions in the House of Commons.
The Shadow Lord Chancellor, David Lammy, raised comments by the UN Special Rapporteur that bills on judicial review and policing would make human rights violations more likely to occur and asked the government to respond.
The lord chancellor said that human rights law was followed at all times and the careful approach the government takes in this area could be seen in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill.
Shadow Solicitor General Ellie Reeves raised the rape review and noted the impact court delays can have on victims. She asked why the government did not support an amendment to fast track rape offences in the PCSC Bill.
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse agreed that delays could drive victim attrition and said the government is committed to getting quality cases into court as quickly as possible.
Hannah Bardell (SNP) asked that any amendments to the Human Rights Act be properly consulted on. The lord chancellor agreed and said there would be consultations ahead of any legislative changes.
On Thursday (1 July) the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, delivered his annual Mansion House speech.
The chancellor used the speech to set out his vision for financial services post-Brexit. He said that the UK will pursue high-quality regulation and cooperate with the EU on global finance as an independent, sovereign entity.
In the speech, the chancellor discussed the “sweeping set of reforms” for UK financial services that will be implemented over the next few years.
He said the government is currently negotiating the “most ambitious financial services agreement ever attempted” with Switzerland.
He also said the government will consult on reforms to the regulation of the wholesale capital market and the UK’s prospectus regime. The speech also covered the government’s plans to review the UK’s funds regime and its prudential regime.
During the speech, the chancellor also set out his intention to take forward recommendations made by the Khalifa Review, such as a central bank digital currency.
He said that he is consulting on reforms to support the safe adoption of cryptoassets and stablecoins and is looking at the opportunities of distributed ledger technologies in capital markets.
On Thursday (1 July) the Attorney General, Michael Ellis, heard questions from MPs on a range of topics including:
The Shadow Solicitor General, Ellie Reeves, described the rape review as a “missed opportunity” and called for an apology for recent remarks by the prime minister about “jabber” around rape statistics.
Ellis said this was a mischaracterisation of the prime minister’s comments and said more needed to be done for rape victims.
He highlighted the increased provision of independent sexual violence advisers for victims and other support that the government is providing.
Angela Crawley MP (SNP) raised the closure of legal aid centres and the impact this is having on access to justice, asking how legal aid would remain accessible.
Ellis said that a quarter of a billion pounds had been spent on recovery in the justice system, funding the rollout of new technology and keeping court buildings safe.
Caroline Ansell MP (Con) asked how the court backlog would be tackled, noting long delays in her constituency.
Ellis said that caseloads were beginning to reduce and the removal of the cap on sitting days would enable as many hearings to take place as possible.
The Law Society will be working closely with MPs and peers, and contributing to a number of upcoming bills, debates and inquiries in Parliament.
In the coming weeks we will be focusing on the following:
The bill has just completed its House of Commons committee stage and will have its report stage on 5 July. We'll brief key MPs ahead of the next debate.
The next sitting of the bill’s House of Lords committee stage will take place on Monday 5 July. We've briefed peers on our key concerns with the 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.
We'll be preparing briefs for the House of Lords report stage, the date of which is yet to be confirmed. We're also working with peers to bring forward amendments.
We'll be submitting written evidence for the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry into cohabiting couples by the deadline of 31 July.
The Law Society has submitted its response to the criminal legal aid review, warning that criminal defence profession could collapse if the government does not increase funding.