Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

The Queen’s speech 2021: proposals affecting the English Legal System

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In this note I set out a brief summary of those Bills which are most likely to impact upon the English Legal System and the topics I consider in my book on the subject.

Top of the list is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This Bill is not new, but is one being carried over from the last Parliament.

It has already attracted a great deal of public attention with widespread protests against its proposals for changing the law on the powers of the police to control demonstrations.

But it is a Bill which goes much wider than that and contains a range of important proposals which will affect reforms to the ways of working in courts and tribunals, on bail and on sentencing.

A Draft Victims Bill will also be published containing proposals to:
● Put into law the rights that were set out in the recent Victims’ Code which are designed to improve victims of crime experience of the criminal justice systeem; and
● Set expectations for the standard and availability of victim support for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

Being a draft Bill, these ideas will be the subject of consultation before a definitive Bill is presented to Parliament. These measures are unlikely to become law for a couple of years.

A Judicial Review Bill is proposed. The issue of judicial review has been on the Government’s agenda for a long time. It was the subject of a review by a team led by Lord Faulks which suggested the possibility of some detailed changes to the current law (in particularly creating a power for the courts to suspend a quashing order) but which thought the main principles of the law should remain unchanged. The Government has launched a consultation on whether further questions need to be addressed, in particular whether and if so how the courts could be prevented from reviewing particular categories of issue. The outcome of this consultation is not yet available. I assume that the Bill which has been announced will not be published until the current consultation is completed.

A Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill is designed to repeal the Fixed-Terms Parliaments Act 2011. In addition, the briefing on the Bill states that it will revive the prerogative powers relating to the dissolution of Parliament, and the calling of a new Parliament. (This provokes an interesting question whether prerogative powers – which are the residual powers of the Crown still exercised by the Executive branch of Government – retain this character once they have been provided for in an Act of Parliament.)

Furthermore, it is said that the Bill will reaffirm ‘the long-standing position that the courts may not block a dissolution (and hence a general election)’ through a non-justiciability clause.

Both the Judicial Review Bill and the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill will be the subject of intense critical debate, particularly by constitutional and public lawyers as well as others interested in the operation of Government.

Finally, mention may be made of the Electoral Integrity Bill which make changes to the ways in which elections are run. In addition to the widely publicised proposal that voters should be required to bring some form of photo ID with them to the polling station, the Bill will also require election messages sent on social media should contain an ‘imprint’ showing who has published the message; improving access to polling stations for the disabled; and removing limits on the ability of UK citizens who live overseas (expats) to vote in UK elections.

The speech and the background briefing are available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/queens-speech-2021-background-briefing-notes

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