Westminster update: Government increases criminal legal aid rates

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What do you want to know

1. The government is increasing criminal legal aid rates

The government this week established regulations to increase criminal legal aid, which will come into force in September.

We welcomed the increase in prices for the work of police stations and magistrates this Thursday, July 20. We have clearly indicated that additional investments are needed to:

  • provide a lasting foundation for criminal legal aid, and
  • respond to the recommendations of the Independent Criminal Legal Aid Review

The regulations will only see a 9% increase for lawyers overall, rather than the 15% the Independent Criminal Legal Aid Review said was the ‘minimum necessary’ to sustain the aid system criminal legal.

This stage should be seen as the basis for funding – and a floor, not a ceiling.

Further increases are needed in the autumn, when the government is due to release its full response to the consultation on its criminal legal aid reforms.

The government pointed out that an additional £20million has been set aside for longer-term reforms and that there will be “potential further increases for lawyers and other legal professionals”.

This year is decisive for the criminal justice system. We will continue to push the government to ensure the sector gets the funding it urgently needs.

Read what we are doing to secure investments in criminal legal aid

2. The government will revise the SLAPPs

Strategic Public Involvement Lawsuits (SLAPPs) should be overhauled in a welcome move.

The UK government published its response to a consultation on Wednesday July 20 on proposals to address the issue.

In March this year, the Lord Chancellor issued an urgent call for evidence in response to the challenges posed by the growing use of SLAPPs.

SLAPPs can be characterized as an abuse of the legal process, where the primary objective is to harass, intimidate, and financially and psychologically exhaust one’s opponent through inappropriate means.

The Lord Chancellor presented a package of measures, including a cap on costs.

As part of the reforms, a court will be able to apply a new three-part test to determine whether a case should be dismissed immediately or be allowed to move forward.

  1. It will assess whether the case is against an activity in the public interest – for example, investigating financial misconduct by a company or individual
  2. He will then consider whether there is evidence of abuse of process, and
  3. Finally, it will examine whether the case is sufficiently founded

Anyone with a suspected case of SLAPP may ask the court to have them considered for early dismissal.

We welcomed the government’s initiative to strengthen and clarify the rules surrounding SLAPPs.

In response to the government’s new actions this week, Speaker I. Stephanie Boyce said, “We are pleased to see that the government has taken on board some of our recommendations to ensure that SLAPPs do not have a chilling effect on freedom of expression or the right to a private life… The new three-part test will also help to ensure that the judiciary provides strict oversight and that spurious cases do not go to court.

3. The race to become the next prime minister intensifies

Only two candidates remain in the race to become the next Prime Minister after finishing in the top two in the final poll of Conservative MPs on Wednesday July 20:

  • Liz Truss, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and
  • Rishi Sunak, former Chancellor of the Exchequer

The two finalist candidates will now try to balance maintaining the party’s image while challenging the other’s credibility with their conservative members.

Rishi Sunak was challenged by other Tory MPs for calling his opponent a “liberal democrat”. Liz Truss has slammed the former chancellor’s economic record in a bid to win members’ votes.

Tom Tugendhat, Kemi Badenoch and Penny Mordaunt were eliminated from the contest on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.

4. Northern Ireland Protocol Bill goes through the Commons

The government controversy Northern Ireland Protocol Bill authorized the House of Commons this week. It passed third reading in the Commons on Wednesday July 20 by 267 votes to 195.

Amendments had been tabled by two Northern Irish parties:

  • the Social Democratic and Labor Party, and
  • the alliance party

Labor MPs have also joined in a bid to water down the legislation.

The amendments would give ministers the power to delete parts of the EU-UK Northern Ireland protocol. They all ultimately failed.

During the bill’s third reading, Shadow Foreign Secretary Stephen Doughty described the bill as “a brazen ministerial power grab”. He claimed Labor was voting against the bill “to uphold the rule of international law” and to protect the UK’s “global reputation”.

Scottish National Party (SNP) MP Richard Thomson also argued that the UK can no longer claim to “defend international law and the rule of law”.

On the other side of the House, Tory MP Sir Bill Cash said people claiming the bill breached international law were “talking through their hats”.

The Bill will now go to the House of Lords in the autumn after Parliament’s summer recess.

5. Minister confirms UK will remain at European Convention

Several peers have asked the Minister of Justice, Lord Bellamy, if the British government has committed itself to remaining within the Convention during oral questions Monday, July 18.

Many peers were concerned about comments from Conservative Party leadership candidates.

  • Attorney General Suella Braverman has repeatedly said she wants the UK out of the Convention, and
  • Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also said she would be willing to step down

The minister replied that the government was committed to staying in the Convention, calling any ideas to come out “reckless”.

He said what the leadership candidates said in their campaigns was “neither here nor there”, and that the government always honors its clear commitment to remain within the Convention.

Coming

Parliament rose for the summer recess on Thursday July 21 and will sit for the next time on Monday September 5.

When Parliament returns, we will work closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries: