Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘General elections

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.

The Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2020

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In recent months public attention on events in Parliament has been almost exclusively on the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic. Nonetheless, other important policy initiatives have been taking place, even though they may not have grabbed the headlines. One of these is the introduction of the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2020 in May 2020.

The United Kingdom is divided into 650 Parliamentary constituencies. Each constituency elects a Member of Parliament. Constituency areas are not, however, static. While the boundaries themselves may remain the same, the population within them may alter substantially, for example by the provision of new housing or the migration of people from a rural to an urban area.

If some constituencies have far larger numbers of people than other constituencies, it will be realised that to win an election based on a first past the post system, which applies to General Elections in the UK, a winner needs fewer votes in a constituency with a smaller number of voters than one in a constituency with a higher number of voters. To many, this seems unfair.

To reflect the changes that occur in constituencies, statutory agencies, called Boundary Commissions, are required to keep constituency boundaries under review. Historically this has taken place once every 5 years.

The basis on which boundary reviews were to take place was changed in 2011 when the then Coalition Government enacted the Parliamentary Voting and Constituencies Act 2011. This Act had two objectives:

  • to enable the holding of a referendum on whether a system of proportional voting should be introduced for Parliamentary elections (the referendum was held and the advocates of change lost the referendum);
  • to amend the system of constituency boundary review.

This second objective contained 2 noteworthy features. First, it reduced the number of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600. Second, it introduced the concept of the ‘electoral quota’ and provided that in carrying out its work, the boundary Commissioners should ensure that the number of constituents in any constituency was within 5% of the ‘electoral quota’. The electoral quota was to be established by dividing the total number of voters in the UK by the number of Parliamentary seats.

Although the Boundary Commissioners made recommendations for boundary changes, as they were required to do, in accordance with the Act of 2011, their recommendations were – for a variety of reasons never implemented.

When enacted, the new Bill will recommence the process of boundary review, but on a slightly changed basis.

  • First, the decision to reduce the number of constituencies from 650 to 600 has been dropped.
  • Second, the concept of the electoral quota, and ensuring that constituency sizes are within 5% of that quota figure is retained.
  • Third, the frequency of boundary reviews is reduced from once every 5 years to once every 8 years.
  • Other detailed changes relate to the consultation procedures to be adopted for undertaking reviews, and the process of presenting the outcomes of those reviews to Parliament.

The intention is that the next round of reviews should start early in 2021 so that they will be in place in time for the next General Election, which is likely to be in 2024.

For the policy background seehttps://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2020-03-24/HCWS183/

The Bill is at https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2019-21/parliamentaryconstituencies/documents.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

July 7, 2020 at 4:09 pm

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

Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 and the General Election 2017

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There were those who thought that the enactment of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 meant that there would be general elections only every 5 years, unless very special circumstances arose. Enacted by the Cameron-Clegg  government, it was designed to give some assurance that the Coalition Government would stay in power and would not be able to call a general election just on the whim of the Prime Minister.

What few people appreciated, however, was that the terms of the legislation did not in fact prevent the Prime Minister – now Theresa May – from putting in process the steps that would enable her to call an election, at a time when she was seeking to strengthen her position as Prime Minister, given her apparent strong position in the opinion polls. All she needed was a vote passed by a 2/3rds majority of MPs to trigger an early election.

As we now know, things did not work out like that. Her gamble did not pay off – at least not in the way she anticipated. So where are we with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act?

It remains on the statute book, and there are some who think that there will be a General Election – under the terms of the Act – in 2022. Political reality suggests, however, that the next election will take place before then. Exactly when will depend on specific factors such as  strength of the Prime Minister’s position,  and the progress of the Brexit negotiations.

I would not be surprised if, at some date in the not too distant future, steps were taken to repeal the legislation – unless perhaps there is another period of Coalition Government in the UK.

Written by lwtmp

July 8, 2017 at 3:19 pm