Queen’s speech: what does it mean for solicitors and the law?
Prince Charles delivered the Queen’s speech on Tuesday 10 May 2022. We highlight some of the key bills from the speech, outlining those most relevant to solicitors in the government’s legislative agenda for the next year.
What were the main themes in the speech?
The government had previously suggested a number of the bills mentioned in the speech, with many having been delayed or postponed due to a changing economic and social landscape, the pandemic and Brexit.
The bills discussed in the speech touch on the following themes:
Bills you need to know about
- Bill of Rights
- Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill
- Brexit Freedoms Bill
- National Security Bill
- Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill
- Draft Mental Health Bill
- Draft Victims Bill
1. Bill of Rights
The Human Rights Act codifies many of the human rights protections we enjoy in Britain today.
The Bill of Rights will follow the government’s consultation on Human Rights Act reform and see it overhaul the Human Rights Act.
The bill will seek to change the relationships between UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights, with consultation proposals suggesting it be put in statute that UK courts are “not required” to follow it but simply “may have regard” for it.
The government is also seeking to replace section three of the Human Rights Act with "a more restrictive limitation” on how judges can interpret legislation when it is seemingly incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Furthermore, the government wants to introduce a permissions stage to human rights claims, which would limit the number of cases heard by a court.
The bill will also include provisions for the automatic deportation of serious criminals in most legal cases.
Our view – impact on fundamental freedoms
We're concerned that the proposals put forward fundamentally change the framework of the Human Rights Act and the protections it provides.
We do not believe there's a case for the sweeping reforms proposed, and think the proposals will:
- damage the rule of law
- prevent access to justice
- reduce or remove rights
- impact devolution
2. Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill
Although some measures were pushed through in the last session following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the home secretary hinted that further legislation would follow.
This has come in the form of the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill.
It’s likely to be a substantial piece of legislation and will include:
- reform of Companies House, and providing it with more effective investigation and enforcement powers
- powers to seize crypto assets (the principle medium used for ransomware) from criminals, and
- information sharing between businesses on money laundering, to detect and prevent economic crime more effectively
How will this affect solicitors?
The Economic Crime Bill will likely mainly affect lawyers with international clients.
These lawyers may face increasing pressure to disassociate from their clients as the UK looks into whether the wealth they store is legal or ethical.
We’re supportive of the legislation as it will help stop criminals holding money in the UK and enhance the transparency of ultimate ownership of UK companies.
We’re keen to work with the government and provide our expertise to ensure the bill is as effective as possible.
3. Brexit Freedoms Bill
During Brexit negotiations, many EU laws were retained as a compromise in place of new domestic legislation not yet formed.
By way of the Brexit Freedoms Bill, the government has committed to new legislation which will allow ministers to repeal or amend old EU laws that are still in effect in the UK.
What are the implications of the bill?
Reforms proposed in this bill are likely to be controversial, and will seek to end the special status of EU law, making it easier to amend or remove it.
The Brexit Freedoms Bill will allow the government to use secondary legislation to alter or repeal the parts of EU law that we retained in the Brexit agreement.
This will mean it can make changes without the need for full parliamentary scrutiny.
While law officers within the government will remain responsible for ensuring that changes are not unlawful, the bill will mean that said changes will not receive a full level of scrutiny from MPs and third parties.
4. National Security Bill
The government has announced it will introduce measures to support security services.
The National Security Bill will seek to restrict the ability of convicted terrorists to receive legal aid, and introduce a Foreign Influence Registration Scheme for individuals working on behalf of foreign governments.
Our view – careful scrutiny needed
Reforms in the bill aiming to prevent access to civil legal aid for convicted terrorists need to be carefully scrutinised to ensure they do not infringe on access to justice or curtail legal rights.
When implementing the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme, the government must also ensure that legal professional privilege between a client and their lawyer is protected at all times.
5. Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill
This bill will seek to codify the Levelling Up White paper, produced in the last session.
It aims to level up the UK and grow the economy in the places that need it most.
It will cover:
- a devolution deal, intended to be made by 2030
- a government duty to report annually on the levelling up missions, and
- elements from the now-dead Planning Bill to support regeneration in less prosperous places, potentially including compulsory purchase powers and support for reusing brownfield land
It also has the potential to include other miscellaneous government measures.
Levelling up needs a fully funded legal system
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill is an ambitious piece of legislation.
However, its success is limited unless the government commits to funding the legal sector, which is crucial in providing legal advice to individuals and businesses.
6. Draft Mental Health Bill
The government has announced it will publish draft legislation to reform the Mental Health Act.
The purpose of the draft bill will be to:
- ensure that patients suffering from mental health conditions have greater control over their treatment and receive the dignity and respect they deserve
- make it easier for people with learning disabilities and autism to be discharged from hospital
Our view – new legislation must give patients opportunities to access justice
Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce says:
“Solicitors have an important role supporting people subject to mental health legislation to understand their rights and access justice.
“It is extremely important all people deprived of their liberty under the Mental Health Act can challenge the lawfulness of a decision to detain them.
“New legislation must give patients more opportunities to access justice and challenge decisions made on their behalf.
“We support measures that are designed to improve the experience of victims in the criminal justice system and improve the way agencies within the system interact and communicate with them, as long as such measures do not impact on a defendant’s right to a fair trial.”
7. Draft Victims Bill
The government has said that this bill will put "victims at the heart of the criminal justice system, ensuring their experiences are front and centre of the process".
It aims to improve the support victims receive in, and beyond, the criminal justice system – particularly for victims of sexual violence, domestic abuse and other serious offences.
It also looks to provide clarity about what victims can and should expect from the criminal justice system.
Our view – supporting measures designed to improve the experience of victims
Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce says:
"We support measures that are designed to improve the experience of victims in the criminal justice system and improve the way agencies within the system interact and communicate with them, as long as such measures do not impact on a defendant’s right to a fair trial.”