Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Constitutional conventions

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Constitutional conventions are an important features of the UK constitutional settlement. As the conventions are not exactly rules in the normal sense, it can on occasion be hard to know what they are and when they apply. In 2011, the then Coalition Government published a statement of Constitutional Conventions that had been drafted by the then Secretary to the Cabinet Sir Gus O’Donnell. Although the work had been started at the request of the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown MP, it was thought to be particularly helpful to guide the Coalition Government, led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The book was published in October 2011.
Recent events in the House of Lords – where a draft Statutory Instrument (which was designed, as part of the Government’s Welfare Reform plan, to cut tax credits to those in work) were not approved by a majority of the Lords, despite being approved in the House of Commons – have thrown a new spotlight on these conventional rules. (They have also reopened the wider issue of the composition of the House of Lords and whether or not it should become an elected body.)
The specific issue – relating to the approval of the Statutory Instrument already approved in the House of Commons – is to be subject to a review led by Lord Strathclyde.
This incident emphasises the point that while the process of government usually ticks over in a fairly ordered way, the lack of detail written rules can on occasion lead to considerable controversy.

The Cabinet Manual setting out the main laws, rules and conventions affecting the conduct and operation of government is available at

Written by lwtmp

October 28, 2015 at 6:19 pm

Restorative Justice: Information pack for the judiciary

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It is some time since I wrote in this blog about restorative justice. (See Nov 2012 and April 2013).
The leading charity in the field, the Resorative Justice Council, has just (October 2015) published an information pack about restorative justice.The pack has been developed with the help of the Magistrates’ Association, the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.

It is designed to help magistrates, crown court judges and court staff to understand restorative justice, the benefits it can bring to all parties involved in a crime and the role that the judiciary can play in the process.

As well as providing information on restorative justice and its use in sentencing, the pack features a checklist for restorative justice, an article about why the judiciary can have confidence in the approach, and the voices of victims and offenders who have taken part in a restorative justice process.

The pack can be downloaded free from

Written by lwtmp

October 28, 2015 at 5:56 pm

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Busting the myths of judicial review: new empirical evidence on outcomes and value for money

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Originally posted on UK Administrative Justice Institute:

This post summarises the findings of a study into the effects of judicial review (JR) in England and Wales which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and undertaken by the Public Law Project and the University of Essex, with Maurice Sunkin as the Principal Investigator.


By Varda Bondy, Lucinda Platt and Maurice Sunkin


The Value and Effects of Judicial Review: The Nature of Claims, their Outcomes and Consequences concerns the use and effects of judicial review (JR) in England and Wales, primarily from a claimant perspective. Judicial review provides a route for obtaining legal redress against public bodies, including in human rights cases, when no other suitable remedy is available. It also provides a means by which public bodies may be held accountable for the legality of their actions. In these ways JR gives practical effect to the rule of law.

The research:

  • builds on previous work to throw…

View original 778 more words

Written by lwtmp

October 26, 2015 at 10:15 am

English Votes for English Laws

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On 22 October 2015, the UK Parliament agreed new legislative procedures for enacting bills, or provisions in bills, that apply only to England. This has been one of the extremely controversial consequences of the Referendum on Scottish Independence.
The policy paper supporting the changes states:

English votes for English laws addresses the so-called ‘West Lothian Question’ – the position where English MPs cannot vote on matters which have been devolved to other parts of the UK, but Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs can vote on those same matters when the UK Parliament is legislating solely for England.

It goes on to say:

These proposals change the process by which legislation is considered by the House of Commons so that MPs with constituencies in England (and where relevant England and Wales) are asked to give their consent to legislation that only affects England (or England and Wales), and is on matters that are devolved elsewhere in the UK. Those MPs will therefore have the opportunity to veto such legislation.

The new process will apply to government bills introduced in the Commons after the new rules are agreed. It will then apply to all parts of government bills which are certified by the Speaker as containing English, or English and Welsh, provisions. It will not apply to routine bills that implement the House’s spending decisions contained in the Estimates. It will also apply to secondary legislation.

The following changes to the legislative process are made:

  • Any bills that the Speaker has certified as England-only in their entirety will be considered by only English MPs at committee stage. The membership of this committee will reflect the numbers of MPs that parties have in England.
  • After the Report Stage, for bills containing English or English and Welsh provisions, there is then a process for gaining the consent of English or English and Welsh MPs. These MPs will form a legislative Grand Committee who will consider a consent motion for any clauses that the Speaker has certified as English or English and Welsh only. This is a new stage to allow all English or English & Welsh MPs either to consent to or to veto those clauses. At this stage no amendments to the text of the bill can be made but specified clauses can be vetoed by amendments to the consent motion. In the case of a bill which is England-only, or England and Wales only, this stage allows those MPs to consent to or veto the whole bill.
  • If clauses of the bill are vetoed by the legislative Grand Committee there is a reconsideration stage when further amendments can be made, to enable compromises to be reached. The whole House can participate in this stage, which is, in effect, a second report stage for disputed parts of the bill.
  • This is followed by a second legislative Grand Committee at which all English or English and Welsh MPs are asked to consent to the amendments made by the whole House. If no agreement is reached at this point, the disputed parts of the bill fall.
  • Following report stage and any consent motions the bill continues to third reading, in which as now all MPs can participate. It then progresses to the House of Lords.
  • The legislative process in the House of Lords is unchanged.
  • If the bill is amended by the House of Lords, then when it returns to the Commons the Speaker is required to certify any motions relating to Lords amendments to the bill, on the same basis as before. Any votes on amendments that have been certified as England or England and Wales only will be subject to a double majority vote. That is to say that such amendments will have to be supported by a majority of English or English and Welsh MPs as well as a majority of all MPs before they can become law.
  • The process for bills that start in the House of Lords is similar, with bills being certified when they first arrive in the House of Commons.

English votes for English laws outline model for bills starting in the House of Commons

Special rules apply to Finance Bills and to Secondary Legislation.

The changes are clearly complex. The Government plans to ask the House of Commons Procedure Committee to review the new procedures after they have been used.

The above is adapted from the Government Policy Paper, available at

A more detailed guide, as well as the changes to the standing orders of the House of Commons and accompanying Explanatory Notes are available at

An excellent research review prepared by Richard Kelly in the House of Commons Library, which gives a detailed account of the background to the whole issue, is at

Written by lwtmp

October 24, 2015 at 11:55 am

Senior President of Tribunals

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Sir Ernest Ryder has replaced Sir Jeremy Sullivan as Senior President of Tribunals. He took up the role in September 2015.
More information about Sir Ernest is at

Written by lwtmp

October 24, 2015 at 10:22 am

Training the Judges – developing the work of the Judicial College

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In December 2012 I published  a podcast with Lady Justice Hallett on the work of the Judicial College in training the judiciary. Her role was taken over by Lady Justice Rafferty in August 2014.

The work of the College has continued to develop although with reduced resources.

It still provides core induction training for all new judges – different courses depending on the type of judge concerned – criminal, civil, administrative.

But its most notable innovation has been the creation of an extensive prospectus of courses to which sitting judges may sign up. (They have to undertake a minimum amount of compulsory professional development wach year). The scope of the programme is considerable and includes a number of academic seminars bringing together judges and legal scholars. The bulk of the programme focusses on practical matters arising in different subject areas.

Information about the work of the Judicial College can be found at
The current prospectus (valid until March 2015) can be accessed by clicking on the link on that page.

The Equal Treatment Bench Book, published by the College is also available on-line. See

Written by lwtmp

October 22, 2015 at 10:00 am

Law for Lawmakers: A JUSTICE guide to the law

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JUSTICE has recently published Law for Lawmakers, a short introduction to some key legal and constitutional principles confronted by MPs, Peers and their staff in their work. This guide is designed to provide basic information and signposts to sources of legal advice and support.

Whilst the legal profession is well-represented in politics it has never dominated the House of Commons. For example, of Parliament’s 650 current MPs, only 88 practise law in England and Wales. As the makers of our laws, as our representatives, and in holding the Government to account, MPs and Peers wear many hats. Each of these roles requires MPs to grapple with the law every day. However, for over three-quarters of all first-time MPs this may be a very new experience.

This Parliament is set to consider constitutional questions ranging from the scope of surveillance powers for the security services to the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union; from a new devolution settlement for the Union to the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The JUSTICE guide doesn’t set out to answer those questions, but it may help to inform discussion and debate.

The guide may be found and downloaded at
It is an ideal introduction to the law-making process for all who are interested, not just MPs.

Written by lwtmp

October 16, 2015 at 12:12 pm


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