Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

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Tribunals Journal – latest edition

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The latest edition of the Tribunals Journal has just been published. It contains a varied collection of articles – all concise, informative and easy to read!

Among the highlights are thoughts from the new President of Tribunals, Sir Keith Lindholm on his ambitions for the development of the tribunals service, and reflections from Prof Mike Adler on the Leggatt Review of Tribunals and its impact on the shaping of the current system. Two articles consider different aspects on the training of the judiciary – a reflexion by Christa Christensen on her years as Director of Training, and an important article by Barry Clarke on innovations in induction training.

Alison Rowley writes an important piece on the challenge of dealing with judicial burnout – recently highlighted in the Judicial Attitudes Survey, noted in this blog. The new Equal Treatment Benchbook – also noted in this blog – is introduced in an accessible language summary prepared by Alex Durance. See also the piece by Rebecca Howard on advice in the book on the treatment of vulnerable men.

Paul Monserrat writes on the work of the Diversity and Inclusion Team in the Judicial Office. And there is a tribute to Judge Esme Martins – one of the first black women to hold judicial office.

The full edition is available at https://sway.office.com/GDVBBdcCIDfXZZPp?ref=Link&loc=play

I declare an interest, as a member of the Editorial Committee.

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

Independent Human Rights Act Review: an update

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The review of the Human Rights Act, chaired by Sir Peter Gross, has completed the first stage of its work, namely the receipt of written evidence, addressing the issues raised for consultation by the review team. Over 150 papers were received in total/

The submissions have recently been made publicly available.

The review is in the process of holding a number of public roadshows – to be hosted by six different law schools around the country. These are scheduled to take place during May 2021.

For links to the submissions and information about the roadshows go to https://www.gov.uk/guidance/independent-human-rights-act-review

Written by lwtmp

April 27, 2021 at 4:08 pm

Responding to Covid-19: the work of tribunals

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All parts of the English Legal System have been affected by Covid 19 – some more adversely than others. The criminal justice system in particular is under severe pressure – not all the result of covid.

By contrast, one sector of the justice system that has risen to the challenge of Covid particularly well is the Tribunals system. It has taken full advantage of new technologies, new ways of working, flexible approaches by judges, support staff and members of the public to ensure that its work has continued – in some cases more successfully than before Covid 19 struck.

In the latest edition of Tribunals Journal, which was published towards the end of March 2021, gives a first hand account, by different tribunal heads, of how they have coped with Covid over the past 12 months.

The outcome is truly impressive and shows how much can be done. Highly recommended read.

Of course, it is not yet clear how far the practices adopted over the past 12 months will continue after the pandemic has subsided. However, my view is that simply going back to the old ways of working, without careful analysis of the experience of the last 12 months, would be a seriously retrograde step.

See https://www.judiciary.uk/publications/tribunals-journal/ and click on the link for the Special Edition for 2021.

The latest edition of Tribunals

Repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act: draft Bill published

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The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 was enacted as part of the agreement reached between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties, when, in 2010, they formed the coalition government led by David Cameron. The idea of fixed-term parliaments had been around for many years. The problem has been that when a political party becomes a government, statutorily fixed-terms reduce the freedom Prime Ministers have long had to decide when they wanted to call an election would be constrained. Those in power have been reluctant to give up this freedom. (There is of course an overall limit – that an election much be called at least every 5 years.)

In 2011, the creation of the Coalition Government changed the political landscape. It was felt that, without setting a timetable for elections, there could be considerabe political instability if the majority partner in the coalition had the freedom to call an election when the opinion polls looked favourable, which could potentiallyhave left the minority in the lurch. The General Election 2015 was conducted within the framework laid down in the 2011 Act.

In 2017, the statutory framework was shown to be considerably less rigid than the title of the Act might have suggested. Mrs May, who had become Prime Minister in 2016, following the Brexit Referendum, thought good polling figures would give her a chance of establishing a more stable Government than that which followed the 2015 election. She was able to hold an election in 2017 because the Act provided that, where the House of Commons voted by a 2/3rd majority in favour of holding an early General Election. The political circumstances at the time enabled her to achieve that result.

In 2019, as the Brexit negotiations were drawing to a close, the Government – now led by Boris Johnson – wanted to find a way of ensuring that it could get a Brexit agreement through the Parliament. The Parliament was so divided on the issue that three attempts to get Parliamentary approval of a draft agreement failed. Mr Johnson thought that one way out of this difficulty would be to be to hold a general election which, if he won, would put the Brexit Agreement at the heart of Government policy. However, he could not do this because the statutory conditions for getting around the Fixed-term Parliaments Act timetable were not met. He did not have a 2/3rd majority in favour of holding a General Election (the route used by Mrs May) nor had he lost a vote of confidence which could also have triggered the calling of an early General Election.

Instead, he tried to prorogue Parliament – bringing one session to an end and starting a new session. But his purported use of the prerogative power to prorogue, which would have resulted in Parliament being totally shut down for 5 weeks, was ruled to be unlawful by the Supreme Court. (See R (on the application of Miller) (Appellant) v The Prime Minister (Respondent) [2019] UKSC 41.) He finally achieved his goal by getting Parliament to sidestep the Act through the enactment of the Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019.

One item in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto for the 2019 General Election was that, if elected, a Conservative Government would repeal the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act. In December 2020 the Draft Fixed Term Parliaments Act (Repeal) Bill was published.

In fact, the Fixed Term Parliaments Act contained a built-in mechanism for its own review. Section 7, added during its parliamentary passage in 2011, provided that between June and November 2020 the Prime Minister should arrange for a committee to review the operation of the Act. That committee was established in November 2020, with 14 MPs and six members of the House of Lords. It is this Committee, chaired by former Conservative Chief Whip Lord (Patrick) McLoughlin, that is now considering the draft Bill.

Two parliamentary committees had already reviewed the operation of the FTPA: the Lords Constitution Committee (2019), and the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (2020). Both raised important questions of principle about the whole idea of creating fixed-term parliaments. Was it right, in principle, that a Prime Minister should have the prerogative power be able to choose an election date? Why should general elections not be held within a timetable agreed by Parliament? The policy arguments in favour of fixed term parliaments as well made in an article by Robert Hazell from the Constitution Unit.

One feature of the draft Bill is that it includes provisions designed to prevent the courts from intervening in any decision taken by a Prime Minister to call an election. Two public lawyers, Professor Elliott and Professor Young, have given their views on the Bill including a consideration of whether the Bill’s attempt to restore the Executive’s prerogative power to determine the date for an election also mean that the potential for a challenge in the courts that an exercise of that power has been unreasonable can be eliminated.

Although the repeal of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act might at first sight seem like a rather narrow issue, it does raise important policy and legal issues which must be considered both while the current Bill is in draft form, and after any legislation has been enacted.

For further information, see the following articles:

By Robert Hazell at https://constitution-unit.com/2020/12/11/the-fixed-term-parliaments-act-should-it-be-amended-or-repealed/

By Professor Elliott at https://publiclawforeveryone.com/2020/12/02/repealing-the-fixed-term-parliaments-act/

By Professor Young at https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/2020/12/04/alison-l-young-the-draft-fixed-term-parliaments-act-2011-repeal-bill-turning-back-the-clock/

Written by lwtmp

February 2, 2021 at 1:31 pm

Reform of the justice system: update on progress

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Those who are following the progress of the programme to change the ways in which the justice system works might care to look at the presentation delivered to the 4th Annual Users Conference.

Online sessions were spread across three days (3, 4, 5 November 2020) and covered the work of criminal, civil, family, tribunals and cross-jurisdictional reform projects over the past 12 months, a year that has been significantly impacted by the need to respond to the pandemic.

Readers can access the main speeches at https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/civil-justice-councils-9th-national-forum-on-access-to-justice-for-those-without-means/

This links to the principal speeches which are on YouTube.

Further information and powerpoint presentation can be accessed at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hmcts-heads-online-for-2020-public-user-event#history

Review of the Human Rights Act 1998: latest news

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Following the announcement of this review, chaired by Sir Peter Gross, in December 2020, the review has now published its call for evidence, together with the membership of the team who will be assisting Sir Peter in his review.

Evidence is sought on two specific issues:

The first deals with the relationship between domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in particular how the requirement that domestic courts ‘take into account’ decisions of the ECtHR.

The second seeks evidence on the impact of the HRA on the relationship between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature.

The time for responding is short. Submissions have to be in by 7 March 2021.

The Review promises that there will be public consultation sessions to be arranged. The intention is that the report should be submitted to Government in Summer 2021.

Details are at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/independent-human-rights-act-review#contents

Written by lwtmp

February 1, 2021 at 11:42 am

Responding to Human Rights Judgments: 2019 to 2020 – new report

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Just a few days ago (18 December 2020) I noted the establishment of the Independent Review of the Human Rights Act 1998, to be chaired by Sir Peter Gross. One of the documents the review will, have to consider is the latest report by the Government to the Joint Committee (of the House of Lords and the House of Commons) on how it has been responding to judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Despite its title, it covers a longer period than 2019-2020. Indeed, it provides important background on how the European Convention on Human Rights impacts on the UK.

What strikes me is, that while there have undoubtedly been a small number of controversial cases that have gone to the ECtHR over the last 20 years, the overall impact has been much more limited than many of the stories in the print media might suggest.

It is striking to see that the numbers of cases against the UK Government is actually very small – and many of the cases started are dismissed as disclosing no cause of action.

In the small number of cases which go against the UK Government, the outcomes of the Court seem to me sensible and balanced. (The low numbers may reflect the fact that, as a result of the enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998, it is easier to argue Convention issues in the UK courts than it used to be.)

Even where cases are taken in the UK Courts, the numbers of declarations of incompatibility made by the UK courts are also very small, and most being dealt with by changes to regulations rather than major legislative changes.

The report is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/responding-to-human-rights-judgments-2019-to-2020

Written by lwtmp

December 22, 2020 at 4:08 pm

Review of the Human Rights Act 1998

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In its Election Manifesto for 2019 the Conservative Party announced that it wished to review the operation of the Human Rights Act 1998.

For a number of years, some politicians had been argung for a repeal of the act and its possible replacement with a ‘British Bill of Rights’. That idea never gained broad political support and seems to have fallen away. Certainly the announcement, on December 7 2020, of the current review states, in terms, that the Government remains committed to the European Convention on Human Rights.

According to the official announcement, the new review – chaired by retired Court of Appeal judge, Sir Peter Gross – has the following tasks. It will consider:

  • The relationship between the domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). This includes how the duty to ‘take into account’ of ECtHR case law has been applied in practice, and whether dialogue between our domestic courts and the ECtHR works effectively and if there is room for improvement.
  • The impact of the HRA on the relationship between the judiciary, executive and Parliament, and whether domestic courts are being unduly drawn into areas of policy.
  • The implications of the way in which the Human Rights Act applies outside the territory of the UK and whether there is a case for change.

The review is stated to be limited to looking at the structural framework of the Human Rights Act, rather than the rights themselves.

The announcement of the review also says that the new review ‘runs alongside’ the independent review of Judicial Review and ‘is part of the government’s work to deliver the commitment in the Manifesto to look at the broader aspects of the constitution and the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts’.

It seems that these 2 reviews, taken with ‘others to be announced in due course’ will deliver the ‘Commission on Constitution, Democracy, and Rights’ which the Government said it wished to establish. It is not at all clear whether there will be a separate Commission, or whether these separate reviews will, in some way, be welded together into some kind of final statement of policy. I would have thought that a distinct Commission would be essential to ensure that the outcomes from specific reviews were coherent.

The announcement of the HRA review is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-launches-independent-review-of-the-human-rights-act

I noted the review of judicial review at https://martinpartington.com/2020/08/07/independent-review-of-administrative-law/. See also https://martinpartington.com/2020/11/04/collection-of-responses-to-the-independent-review-of-administrative-law-iral/

Written by lwtmp

December 18, 2020 at 11:17 am

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act: should it be amended or repealed?

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A really interesting discussion about the proposed repeal of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, noting that there are more issues involved than might at first appear.

The Constitution Unit Blog

A parliamentary committee has been established to review the effectiveness of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. Rather than wait for its conclusions, the government has published a draft bill designed to return control of the timing of general elections to the executive. Robert Hazell examines the issues the committee will have to consider, and proffers some possible improvements to the status quo.

On 1 December the government published its draft bill to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (FTPA). This would implement the commitment in the Conservative 2019 manifesto, which pledged: ‘We will get rid of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act – it has led to paralysis when the country needed decisive action’. The bill would revert to the previous system, and restore the prerogative power of dissolution. As the government’s Foreword explains:

The Bill makes express provision to revive the prerogative power to dissolve Parliament. This means once…

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Written by lwtmp

December 16, 2020 at 1:30 pm