Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

End of the 2019-2021 Parliamentary Session: legislative and other outcomes

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It feels as though the 2019-2021 Parliamentary session, which started immediately after the election of the Boris Johnson Government and has just come to an end has gone on for ever. The dramas of Brexit were anticipated; those of the Covid-19 pandemic were certainly not. This note looks at some of the key outcomes from this session, in particular those that impact on my book, Introduction to the English Legal System, the 15th edition of which will be published soon.

As I have written before, despite all the attention and time that needed to be spent on dealing with the pandemic, four important pieces of legislation managed to get through the Parliamentary process.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 and the Sentencing Act passed in 2020. Both have been considered in these notes and are included in the new edition of the Book.

Two other important pieces of legislation completed their parliamentary journey in the dying days of the 2019-2021 session.

First is the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 which should have a major impact on how domestic abuse is dealt with by the police, social authorities and the courts. I have written about this legislation before (see 15 March 2019, 21 May 2020, and 23 July 2020). A Press Release summarizing the key features of the new Act – which has taken a long time to reach the statute book – is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/landmark-domestic-abuse-bill-receives-royalassent .

The other Act which should be noted here is the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act 2021, about which I have also written before (on 22 July 2020). This is designed to strengthen provisions relating to the detention and monitoring of those convicted of terrorist offences. See the press release at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/longer-jail-terms-and-stricter-monitoring-as-new-terror-laws-gain-royal-assent for a brief overview of this Act.

This Act needs to be kept distinct from the quite separate Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This was not introduced into Parliament until March 2021. It has already attracted considerable public attention, with demonstrations against the Bill being held in many cities throughout the country.

The Bill picks up proposals in the Smarter Approach to Sentencing White Paper, about which I wrote here on 9 October 2020. But it also reflects earlier Conservative Party manifesto pledges. An extremely helpful background note, setting out both the origins of the Bill and it principal features can be found in the House of Commons Library Research Briefing at https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-9158/ which was published in March 2021.

Media headlines are focused on issues relating to powers to limit the right to protest peacefully, but there is a great deal more in this wide-ranging Bill. This Bill will be brought back to Parliament once the new 2021-2022 session gets under way.

Also worth mentioning in this context is the Parliamentary Constituencies Act 2020. This provides for major changes to the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies, to try to ensure that there is approximately the same number of voters in each constituency. This is an idea that has been around for some time – originally linked with proposals to reduce the number of MPs in the House of Commons. This aspect of the changes has been abandoned. The work of redrawing the boundaries will be undertaken by the Boundary Commissions – one each for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Final reports are due by 1 July 2023. See further https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-law-passed-will-make-voting-in-uk-general-election-fairer

What the legislative landscape for the next 12 months will look like will become clearer after the Queen’s Speech, which will be delivered on 11 May 2021. This will be the subject of a separate note.

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