Westminster update: Prime Minister Liz Truss resigns

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1. Premier Liz Truss resigns

This week has seen chaos in the House of Commons:

  • the resignation of the interior minister
  • confusion around a vote of confidence
  • the resignation of Prime Minister Liz Truss

The pressure on Truss grew after his chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng was sacked after his mini budget sparked weeks of economic turmoil and rebellion from backbench MPs.

The new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, then introduced a new economic strategy, which undermined Truss’s leadership campaign promises.

The disorder escalated on Wednesday. Now former Home Secretary Suella Braverman broke ministerial rules by sending an official document from her personal email to a fellow MP. She resigned, saying she had concerns about the direction of the government.

His resignation was the start of dissent among Tory MPs.

Rows broke out between Tory MPs and whips in the voting hall on Wednesday night over a vote on fracking.

It was unclear whether the vote constituted a vote of confidence in the government; however, a number of Tory MPs still abstained in the vote.

Following these events, Truss announced his resignation on Thursday, October 20, and there would be a seven-day leadership contest.

The 1922 Committee of Conservative Backbenchers established new rules:

  • candidates must secure 100 nominations from fellow MPs to run
  • if necessary, a ballot of Tory MPs will be held on Monday to narrow the field to two
  • a short member vote will then take place to select a new leader by Friday, October 28

2. Justice matters take place in the Commons

Justice matters took place this week.

MEPs focused on criminal legal aid and human rights reform on Tuesday 18 October. We were quoted five times by MPs during the session.

Shadow Legal Aid Minister Afzal Khan hailed the election of our new President Lubna Shuja.

He warned us that the justice system was about to collapse. He called on the Lord Chancellor to implement the Bellamy Review in full.

The Lord Chancellor echoed Khan’s comments about our new President. He said there were elements for lawyers in the package for the criminal bar to end their strike action.

Labor MP Valerie Vaz also questioned why lawyers were only receiving a 9% increase in legal aid rates. She noted that we had said that criminal lawyers could not undertake criminal defense work at these levels.

The Lord Chancellor said the 9% did not reflect further action and that the government would respond in full to the independent criminal legal aid review in November.

Owen Thompson (SNP) spoke about the deportation of asylum seekers to Rwanda. He asked if the Lord Chancellor agreed with us that ‘anyone who is subject to a life-changing order should be able to challenge the decision’.

Gareth Johnson, the legal aid minister, said access to legal advice is important, which is why asylum seekers have access to legal aid.

3. Human Rights Committee reviews National Security Bill

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has published its national security bill report Wednesday, October 19. The report referenced our evidence 17 times.

The report mainly focused on the provisions of the bill aimed at:

  • prohibit those convicted of terrorist offenses from receiving civil legal aid
  • prevent those involved in national security cases from seeking civil damages from the state

JCHR agrees with our position that automatically excluding people from civil legal aid will reduce access to justice and agrees that there should be a clear threshold on the damages provision in The law project.

The JCHR proposed a number of amendments to remove these elements.

The report also expressed concern that the Foreign Influence Registration Program had not been properly reviewed and assessed for its impact on human rights.

We are concerned that the system does not include protections for legal professional secrecy and we are working urgently with the government to change this.

The bill is currently at committee stage in the House of Commons.

We are working with MPs to ensure that the bill protects access to justice and respects the rule of law.

4. Peers criticize the asylum agreement with Rwanda

The House of Lords International Agreements Committee has published its report on the memorandum of understanding between the UK and Rwanda (MoU) on asylum seekers on Tuesday 18 October.

The report criticized the memorandum of understanding, arguing that it was not suitable for this type of agreement and that it should have been given due consideration by parliament, as it raised fundamental questions about the rights of individuals.

The committee deemed this to be “unacceptable”.

We submitted evidence to the committee and were cited five times in the report.

We were directly quoted in an argument:

  • this type of agreement, regulating an issue that has significant rule of law implications, should not have been implemented as a memorandum of understanding

Following the publication of the report, the government has until December 18 to respond to its recommendations.

5. Economic Crime Bill goes to second reading

The government Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons on Thursday 13 October.

The law project:

  • aims to reform Companies House
  • introduces a new register of foreign entities
  • adds a regulatory objective to the Legal Services Act 2007 to affirm the duties of regulators and regulated communities to uphold the economic crime agenda
  • removes the statutory cap on fines imposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for disciplinary cases related to economic crime

We welcomed the Bill and its intention to tackle economic crime in the UK, reflecting on the important role lawyers play in the fight against money laundering and other areas.

We are concerned about the government’s proposal to allow the SRA to impose unlimited financial penalties for economic crime disciplinary cases.

The SRA’s fine powers have just been significantly increased over businesses and traditional individuals, from £2,000 to £25,000.

The proposed unlimited powers would also potentially include many more serious or important cases that are currently before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal – we argue that this should remain the case.

We briefed MPs ahead of second reading, warning about the proportionality of these reforms, as well as making suggestions on how the government could improve the company law reforms contained in the bill.

The first session of the bill’s committee stage in the House of Commons is scheduled for October 25, 2022.

We will again inform members of our priorities for the bill before that.

Coming

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