Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘Chapter 3’ Category

Explanatory notes to Bills and Acts

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Explanatory notes have been published alongside Bills and Acts for many years now.

There are legal purists who argue that no lawyer worth his/her salt should look at them; truly independent legal advice can only be based on the actual legislative words.

I completely disagree with this argument. In my view these notes are key to an understanding of what particular Acts of Parliament are about and are an essential ingredient in promoting the public understanding of law.

The Office of Parliamentary Counsel considered Explanatory Notes in a couple of short papers published in 2014 and 2015. (I missed them at the time.)

It is clear that there is no intention of abandoning the use of these Notes. Indeed, it is intended that their use and usefulness should be enhanced. A survey of users of legislation found that overwhelmingly the Notes were used by people consulting statutes on-line. At the same time, it also found that significant numbers of those using statutory material either did not know they existed or how to find them.

The two papers can be found at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/322113/Explanatory_Notes_survey_Jul_2013_report.pdf

and https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/explanatory-notes-for-bills-new-format

 

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

June 7, 2018 at 11:02 am

The law-making process: consultation over-load?

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In Chapter 3 of the book, I suggest that the legislative process passes through a number of stages:

  • ideas set out in the party election manifesto of the winning political party;
  • (sometimes) publication of a Green paper – setting out ideas for law reform;
  • (more frequently) publication of a White paper – setting out firmer proposals for changing the law
  • publication of a Bill – putting the proposed changes into draft legislative form.

Of course, real life is not as clear-cut as that.

I was struck, however, by an article that recently appeared in The Times (30 March 2018) under the heading “Hundreds of government pledges the Tories have quietly forgotten”. Investigators from the newspaper stated that, since 2015, 1,661 consultations that have been launched by the present government. In most cases, there is little sign that the results of the consultations are either being analysed or acted upon. And given that consultations cost, on average, £40,000, this represents a waste of cash resources as well.

The authors state “Whitehall guidelines say there should be an official response within three months outlining steps for new policy or legislation. However, the government website shows that almost a third of the Tories’ consultations have had no such response and 202 out of 898 that started before the end of 2016 remain incomplete.”

Thus what might seem to be an important source of ideas for legislative change turns out to be somewhat underwhelming. Sorting out legislative priorities is a challenge for any government, but it is important that, when the public is asked for its views on possible reform ideas, it should feel that its views are taken into account, even if not acted upon in the way respondents might hope for. If the public starts to think that ‘consultation’ – which might imply some action – is being used, instead, as an excuse for inaction, this does not seem to me to be a sensible use of the consultation process – which should encourage engagement in the policy/law-making process.

The Times article is at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/hundreds-of-government-pledges-the-tories-have-quietly-forgotten-6kwt879bg 

(This may be behind a paywall).

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

April 23, 2018 at 3:40 pm

Slimming down the size of Parliament: the turn of the House of Lords

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I have commented before on current plans to reduce the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 600 MPs. The process, taking place under the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, has already been subject to delay. And, there is much speculation that the revised date for implementation (sometime in 2018) will either be further delayed or even abandoned. (See this blog October 30 2017.)

A somewhat similar exercise has been launched in relation to the House of Lords. As the House of Lords is not an elected body, a reduction in size cannot be achieved simply by reducing the number of Parliamentary Constituencies. Instead, other steps have to be adopted if its numbers are to reduce.

In 2017, Lord Burns was asked by the Lord Speaker to chair a Committee on how this might be achieved. The Burns report, which was published in October 2017, sets out a programme for size reduction over the next ten years. Among the recommendations are that membership of the House of Lords should be limited to 15 years (currently appointments are for life); and that until the target number of reached only 1 new member should be appointed for every two members whose appointments end.

To date the report has been debated in the House of Lords (December 2017) and is now being examined by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the House of Commons. Final decisions have not yet been taken.

Lord Burn’s Report can be read at https://www.parliament.uk/size-of-house-committee. 

The Lords’ Debate is at https://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2017/december/lords-debates-size-of-the-house-report/.

The Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional affairs is at https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-administration-and-constitutional-affairs-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/lord-speakers-committee-size-house-17-19/

Written by lwtmp

April 4, 2018 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Chapter 3

Tagged with

Post-legislative scrutiny : LASPO 2012

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The concept of the post-legislative scrutiny was introduced in 2008, following a report on the idea, published by the Law Commission in 2006.

Now called ‘Post Implementation Review’, the Government has decided to subject Part 1 of the  Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, 2012 (LASPO) to such a review. This is the part of LASPO which deals with legal aid.

The effect of LASPO was to make significant cuts to the provision of legal aid in England and Wales. There have been many calls – from the legal profession, from the judiciary and from those working in the advice sector, among others –  for those cuts to be reversed.

The Low Commission (2014) and the Bach Commission’s Report (2017) argued that the cuts had led to legal advice deserts and were having an adverse impact on the citizens’ access to justice.

The Government has recently (March 2018) set out the terms of reference for what it calls the ‘consultation’ phase of the LASPO review and has invited the submission of evidence on the impact of the 2012 changes.

The process is currently being monitored by the Select Committee on Justice. It has recently published correspondence with the Secretary of State for Justice.

It may also be noted that criminal legal aid barristers are currently threatening strike action on the impact of changes to the rates of pay they receive for doing criminal legal aid work.

It is likely that many of the submissions to the review will argue for the restoration of cuts imposed 5 years ago.

My view is that a roll-back to the pre-LASPO position is extremely unlikely. More likely is  a renewed emphasis on ways of improving the provision of front-line advice, to try to enable more people to undertake legal work for themselves. There will also be an emphasis on new processes for handling legal disputes which might be easier for people to operate themselves.

It would be nice to think that the innovative ideas of the Low Commission for a new National Strategy for Advice and Legal Support would be put in place, supported by its proposed National Advice and Legal Support Fund. But, in the absence of strong lobbying from the public in favour of these ideas, I have my doubts as to whether these will gain political traction.

For the terms of reference of the consultation, see https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/686576/pir-laspo-terms-of-reference.pdf

The Select Committee on Justice is at https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 24, 2018 at 4:35 pm

Law Commission: 13th Programme announced

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After delay resulting from the calling of the General Election in May 2017, the Law Commission has just (14 December 2017) announced its latest programme of law reform projects which it intends to take forward over the next three years.

The list is an interesting one containing a wide variety of topics.

A number of these can be see to be a response to technological change. Projects on Automated Vehicles, Electronic Signatures, Intermediated Securities or Smart Contracts would not have been on such a list, even three years ago (when the 12th Programme was published).

The general area of property law attracts a number of projects. These include: Modernising Trust Law for a Global Britain, Registered Land and Chancel Repair Liability, Museum Collections, Residential Leasehold, and Unfair Terms in Residential Leasehold.

There is a number of projects that will examine  how current processes, which affect the public, might be reformed. These include: Administrative Review, Employment Law Hearing Structures, and Simplifying the Immigration Rules.

Controversial issues concerning both the start and end of life are reflected in proposals to review Surrogacy and A Modern Framework for Disposing of the Dead.

In addition to these new projects, the Law Commission will continue to work on items brought over from the 12th Programme of work, including work on Sentencing, and Search warrants.

The Law Commission also lists a number of other topics which is considered for inclusion but which do not appear in the current programme.

Further details of all these projects can be found at https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/13th-programme-of-law-reform/

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

December 14, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Chapter 3, Chapter 4

Tagged with ,

Prisoners’ voting rights: recent developments

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For over a decade there has been a stand-off between the UK Government and the European Court of Human Rights on the question of whether prisoners should have a right to vote. The law in the UK is that they should not. The European Court of Human Rights took the view that a blanket ban was a denial of the right to vote provided for in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Coalition Government got as far as publishing a draft Bill setting out a number of options for resolving the impasse (which included doing nothing) in 2013. I noted this in this blog in August 2014. Since then the issue has gone very quiet.

It appears that towards the end of 2016, the Government did issue an undertaking to the Council of Europe that is would do something by the end of 2017. Readers of this blog might be forgiven for not spotting that, in fact, the Government has recently done just that. Not a Bill, as many of us has been expecting, but in the form of a Statement to Parliament.

On November 2nd 2017, the Secretary of State for Justice said (in part):

[T]he Government has considered this issue carefully. We have decided to propose administrative changes to address the points raised in the 2005 judgment, while maintaining the bar on convicted prisoners in custody from voting.

First, we will make it clear to criminals when they are sentenced that while they are in prison this means they will lose the right to vote. This directly addresses a specific concern of the [in the original ECtHR] judgment that there was not sufficient clarity in confirming to offenders that they cannot vote in prison.

Second, we will amend guidance to address an anomaly in the current system, where offenders who are released back in the community on licence using an electronic tag under the Home Detention Curfew scheme can vote, but those who are in the community on Temporary Licence, cannot.

Release on Temporary Licence is a tool typically used to allow offenders to commute to employment in the community and so prepare themselves for their return to society. Reinstating the civic right of voting at this point is consistent with this approach…

These measures will see no changes to the criteria for temporary release, and no offenders will be granted release in order vote.

Our estimate is that these change to temporary licence will affect up to one hundred offenders at any one time and none of them will be able to vote from prison.

So, hey presto! No need for new legislation or amendment of the  Representation of the People Act 1983, but a simple change to Prison Service guidance.

The question this statement raises, of course, is whether this will be enough to satisfy the Council of Europe. My suspicion is that it may not, and that this will not resolve the issue once and for all. But it will probably be enough to kick the issue into the grass for a few more months – possibly longer.

The question of whether the European Court of Human Rights should have jurisdiction over this issue has recently been taken up in  book published by The Policy Exchange. In Human Rights and Political Wrongs: A new approach to Human Rights law Professor Sir Noel Malcolm argues that while Human Rights are very important, the way in which those rights have been interpreted and developed by the European Court of Human Rights has been inconsistent, and in some contexts has had the effect of undermining the authority of democratically elected governments. He argues that Human Rights should be limited to setting the boundaries of state power, and that decisions on whether particular policies or decisions are in breach of Human Rights should be done by domestic courts.

I see the publication of this book as the first step in putting the question of whether we have a separate British Bill of Rights back onto the domestic political agenda.

The Secretary of state’s statement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/secretary-of-states-oral-statement-on-sentencing.

Professor Malcolm’s book can be downloaded free at https://policyexchange.org.uk/

 

 

 

 

Redrawing Parliamentary constituency boundaries?

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The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 had two objectives. The first was to authorise the holding of a referendum on whether the ‘first part the post’ voting system used in general elections should change to one that offered some proportional representation. The idea was rejected.

The second was that the number of MPs in the House of Commons should be reduced from 650 to 600, and that the population size of constituencies should be made more equal.

It was originally intended that these measures should be introduced for the 2015 General Election, but the Lib Dem members of the Coalition Government scuppered the idea, as they could not persuade the Conservative partners in the Coalition Government to take House of Lords reform seriously.

Meanwhile the Boundary Commissions of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been beavering away, developing proposals for realigning parliamentary boundaries. They have just (October 2017) published a second round of consultations on their latest proposals. Final report reports are due in 2018.

The unknown question at the moment is whether the present Government will in fact go ahead with the proposed reduction in the numbers of seats. Many have argued that the fact that Mrs May does not have an overall majority in the present Parliament will mean that she cannot afford to run the risk of defeat on any proposal to fully implement the Boundary Commissions’ proposals.

Each Boundary Commission has its own website. The one for England is at https://boundarycommissionforengland.independent.gov.uk/2018-review/

 

Written by lwtmp

October 30, 2017 at 4:55 pm