Weekly Westminster Update: Lord Chancellor questioned by MPs

One thing you must do

Send your views to the government’s criminal legal aid consultation.

Whether you are a duty counsel or work in another field, you can help us save criminal legal aid in England and Wales. Our quick guide to government consultation explains how junior lawyers, criminal legal aid practitioners and other lawyers can make their voices heard.

What do you want to know

1. The Lord Chancellor questioned by MPs

The Lord Chancellor and his ministers were questioned by MPs at Justice matters Tuesday, May 24.

Shadow Justice Minister Afzal Khan raised the issue of legal aid deserts. He criticized ministers for failing to implement the 15% increase in criminal legal aid rates recommended by the Bellamy review and called on the government to level the playing field.

Legal Aid Minister James Cartlidge has said the government will increase criminal legal aid rates as soon as possible and has committed £135m to the system.

Shadow Courts Minister Alex Cunningham criticized the courts backlog target of 53,000 cases and asked how long people were waiting for their cases to be heard.

Cartlidge noted that the government had removed the cap on sitting days and given magistrates greater sentencing powers to keep cases out of the Crown Court.

Tory MP Esther McVey asked what was being done to tackle delays in family court.

The Lord Chancellor said the majority of cases should be dealt with before they come to court through alternative dispute resolution and he hoped more would happen.

2. Publication of victims’ bills

The Department of Justice released his proposals for the next Victims Bill on Wednesday, May 25. The bill aims to improve the experience of victims in the justice system and provide them with additional support.

The legislation will give victims a greater voice in their cases, with prosecutors required to meet with them during the case.

The bill will give ministers the power to direct criminal justice inspectorates to undertake regular joint inspections of victim issues and produce plans for making improvements to the system. It will now be considered by the Justice Select Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny, before being presented to Parliament later this year.

We have already welcomed increased support for victims, but said this must be accompanied by adequate funding for the courts and our criminal legal aid system to ensure prompt access to justice.

3. MPs debate foreign lobbying

The deputies held a Westminster Hall Debate to discuss the issue of foreign lobbying in the UK on Wednesday 25 May.

The debate was called by Tory MP Bob Seely, who opened by saying the UK needed better lobbying laws, citing the government’s new national security bill. The bill seeks to introduce a new Foreign Influence Registration Regime (FIRS) for foreign agents.

Seely argued for a broad foreign agent registration process that would include lawyers and law firms and criticized the use of the law to “silence” critics.

Labor’s Chris Bryant said the UK is particularly vulnerable to foreign lobbying because it is a “free society” which believes in the rule of law and has a “very open democratic process”.

The government did not include the proposed FIRS when it introduced the National Security Bill but have indicated that they plan to include it in an amendment to be presented in the coming weeks.

We support the intentions of such a regime, but want professional secrecy of justice (LPP) to be protected to guarantee adequate and equitable access to justice.

We will keep members informed of any further developments.

4. Human Rights Committee investigates care home protections

On Wednesday 18 May, the Joint Human Rights Committee held a evidence session on protecting human rights in care settings with Gillian Keegan, Minister of State for Care.

Asked about restrictions on care homes during the pandemic, the minister said:

  • the approach was risk-based, and
  • a ‘feedback loop’ had informed advice throughout the pandemic, to make it as appropriate as possible at all times

Concerns have been raised about the complaints procedure for families of people in care. Committee chair Harriet Harman said she heard a “complete lack of confidence … in the ability of residents’ loved ones to complain.”

The minister said she was also concerned that people would fear reprisals if they complained and that she is looking into the matter.

Regarding guarantees of deprivation of liberty, the president said that they apply to people who must be deprived of their liberty to allow care because they do not have the mental capacity to consent to arrangements. .

The Chair reported that the committee heard complaints about delays in processing personal care.

The Minister said that the current system is too complex and that the new system, which has not yet been proposed, would be less so.

Coming

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