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What does the Queen’s Speech mean for solicitors and the law?
Monday saw the state opening of parliament and the delivery of the Queen’s Speech, which sets out the government’s legislative agenda for the new session of parliament.
Justice, and especially criminal justice, formed a key theme of the speech, while Brexit also featured prominently.
There was also a specific bill aimed at implementing international agreements on cross-border justice issues.
This article highlights some of the key bills announced in the speech that will be of most relevance to solicitors.
The Queen began the speech by reiterating the government’s commitment to leaving the European Union by 31 October.
The government will seek to bring forward a European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill in order to ratify any Brexit deal agreed with the European Union in the coming days.
The government will also bring forward an Agriculture Bill, a Fisheries Bill and a Trade Bill to “[seize] the opportunities that arise from leaving the European Union”, as well as an Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill which would end free movement of people in the UK.
- European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – this bill will implement any withdrawal agreement that is agreed between the UK and the EU. The government also signalled its intent to ensure that EU, EEA and Swiss citizens currently living in the UK will continue to have a legal right to stay
- Trade Bill – this bill will aim to roll over existing EU trade agreements with third parties and protect UK businesses and consumers from “unfair trade practices or unforeseen surges in imports”. This will include the establishment of a new body to protect UK firms against unfair practices
- Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – this bill will end freedom of movement for people in the UK, and aim to deliver a new points-based immigration system from 2021. All EU citizens arriving after January 2021 will be subject to the same immigration controls as non-EU citizens, with an exception for Irish citizens
Financial and legal services
The government will bring forward a Financial Services Bill and a Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill to “provide certainty, stability and new opportunities for the financial and legal sectors”.
- Financial Services Bill – this bill will aim to support the UK’s position as a global financial services centre by maintaining regulatory standards and the UK’s openness to international markets after Brexit
- Private International Law (Implementation of Agreements) Bill – this bill will aim to maintain the UK’s role in delivering justice across borders on civil and family issues, and make it easier for UK individuals who become involved in international legal disputes to access justice. This would include clarifying the implementation in UK legislation of the 1996, 2005 and 2007 Hague Conventions. The government’s background briefing notes that legal services contribute around £25 billion a year to the UK economy
Addressing violent crime and strengthening the criminal justice system was a key theme of the speech.
The government announced a number of new bills in this area, focused on:
- increasing sentences for the most serious offences
- providing more support for victims and their families
- addressing serious violence
- providing protections for police officers
The government also announced the return of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which was carried over from the last session, and the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which fell at the close of the last session.
- Domestic Abuse Bill – this bill was carried over from the previous session. It will create new protections for victims of domestic abuse
- Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill – this bill will aim to minimise the impact of divorce on children, and will provide for divorces on a no-fault basis
- Serious Violence Bill – this bill will create a new duty on public agencies to put in place plans to prevent serious violence
- Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill – this bill would create a new power to enable the immediate arrest of fugitives after the issuing of an Interpol Red Notice
- Sentencing Bill – this bill will change the automatic release point for adult offenders serving prison sentences of four or more years for serious violent or sexual offences from halfway to the two-thirds point
- Foreign National Offenders Bill – this bill would increase the maximum penalty for foreign national offenders who breach a deportation order
- Victims’ Law – a new Victims’ Law will be consulted on in early 2020, alongside the publication of a new Victims’ Code which will set out the minimum level of service victims can expect from criminal justice agencies
- Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Bill – this bill will ensure that the Parole Board considers whether offenders have disclosed key information about their crimes to victims and their families in assessing them for parole
- Police Protections Bill – this bill will establish a police covenant on a statutory footing to provide protections for police officers
- Sentencing (Pre-consolidation Amendments) Bill – this bill was carried over from the previous session, and will make technical changes to the law to enable a consolidation of existing law on sentencing. The bill will not introduce any new sentencing law or alter maximum penalties available for offences
Other key themes
The government will bring forward a Health Service Safety Investigations Bill which will establish a new independent body to investigate patient safety concerns – something which will be of interest to clinical negligence solicitors.
The government will also pursue reform of the Mental Health act to improve patient autonomy and ability to challenge detentions.
On employment law reform, the government stated that it will continue to implement the Good Work Plan but did not set out any specific legislative proposals.
The background briefing noted the close yesterday of the government’s consultation on proposed legal protections for armed forces personnel, stating that the government would consider the responses ahead of developing concrete proposals.
The government recognised that this is a “delicate and sensitive matter”, but has indicated that it wishes to bring forward comprehensive legislation “as soon as is practically possible”.
The government has also signalled its intent to be a champion for global free trade, highlighting the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Japan as priorities for new trade deals.
Other areas of the Queen’s Speech covered:
- a proposed national infrastructure strategy, including digital infrastructure
- increased support for the science and technology sectors through investment
- a new funding agency
- a more open visa system