Westminster update: Queen’s speech sets out new legislation

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Queen’s Speech sets out new legislation

On Tuesday 10 May, Prince Charles delivered the Queen’s speech to the House of Lords, outlining the government’s key priorities for the next parliamentary session.

The speech focused on:

  • navigating the post-Brexit British economy
  • changing the legislation surrounding rights and freedoms of individuals and institutions
  • levelling up the country and its infrastructure and services

The speech included a total of 38 bills, several of which will have an impact on the justice system and members of the legal profession.

The Bill of Rights will seek to change the relationships between UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights, with consultation proposals suggesting it be put in statute that UK courts are “not required” to follow the European court but simply “may have regard” for it.

The government is also seeking to replace section three of the Human Rights Act with “a more restrictive limitation” on how judges can interpret legislation when it is seemingly incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Furthermore, the government wants to introduce a permissions stage to human rights claims, which would limit the number of cases heard by a court.

The bill will also include provisions for the automatic deportation of serious criminals in most cases.

The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill is likely to be a substantial piece of legislation and will include reform of Companies House, by providing it with:

  • more effective investigation and enforcement powers
  • powers to seize crypto assets (the principle medium used for ransomware) from criminals, and
  • provisions for information sharing between businesses on money laundering, to detect and prevent economic crime more effectively

By way of the Brexit Freedoms Bill, the government has committed to new legislation which will allow ministers to repeal or amend old EU laws that are still in effect in the UK.

Reforms proposed in this bill are likely to be controversial, and will seek to end the special status of EU law, making it easier to amend or remove it.

The bill will allow the government to use secondary legislation to alter or repeal the parts of EU law that we retained in the Brexit agreement. This will mean it can make changes without the need for full parliamentary scrutiny.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will seek to codify the Levelling Up White paper, produced in the last session. It will aim to level up the UK and grow the economy in the places that need it most.

The bill will include:

  • a devolution deal, intended to be made by 2030
  • a government duty to report annually on the levelling up missions
  • elements from the now-dead Planning Bill to support regeneration in less prosperous place

Other important bills set to enter parliament in the next year are the:

  • National Security Bill
  • the draft Mental Health Bill
  • the draft Victims Bill

We look forward to working with parliamentarians on all of the above. 

Find out what the Queen’s speech means for solicitors and the law 

Justice Select Committee scrutinises SLAPPs

The Justice Select Committee held a session on strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) on Tuesday 10 May.

The session focused on:

  • whether there is a need for legislation to prevent SLAPPs
  • the changing nature of claims
  • why England and Wales may be a favoured jurisdiction for these cases

The witnesses, who included legal practitioners and a journalists’ representative, disagreed on whether government intervention would be necessary.

Some claimed statute is needed to deter claimants from bringing SLAPPs whilst others said that the current law already strikes the right balance between protecting people’s reputations and journalists’ freedom of expression.

It was noted by the panel that the nature of SLAPPs is moving away from the use of defamation claims towards data protection or privacy claims. As such claims are often harder to defend.

The panel argued that England and Wales is a favoured jurisdiction for SLAPPs as cases here can run on for a significant length of time and be costly for defendants to fight.

Some asserted that cost caps should be introduced and that judges should be granted early striking out mechanisms if they suspect a case is a SLAPP.

The panel said that regulatory action should be taken against law firms that falsely threaten defamation claims.

However, the committee chair, Sir Bob Neill (Conservative) noted that firms have a duty to represent their clients in the most effective way possible.

The government is currently consulting on SLAPPs.

We’ll be making a submission to this consultation and are consulting widely with members to inform our response.

2022 local election results

On Thursday 5 May, local council elections were held across Wales, Scotland, and parts of England.

The Conservative party suffered a number of losses across the country.

The Liberal Democrats came out of the elections as the biggest winners in England, while Labour made gains in Wales.

In England:

  • the Conservatives lost 336 councillors and 10 councils
  • Labour gained 22 councillors and three councils
  • the Liberal Democrats gained 194 councillors and three councils

In Wales:

  • Labour gained 66 councillors and one council
  • Plaid Cymru lost six councillors but gained control of three councils
  • the Conservatives lost 86 councillors and one council

Among the more notable results were Labour’s victories that saw them take control of Wandsworth and Westminster councils – both traditionally Conservative strongholds.

Outside of London, Labour made more limited progress.

Commons debate proposed justice reforms

Following the Queen’s speech, on Wednesday 11 May, the Commons debated the proposed legislation relating to justice and crime prevention.

The opposition parties seemed pleased with the proposals to crack down on economic crime and fraud. But they had more misgivings with the proposed Bill of Rights.

Joanna Cherry, an SNP member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, stated that the committee had found no case for replacing the human rights act, and that the proposed reforms would “cause only confusion and detriment to those who need their rights to be protected”.

She added that the reforms should not be pursued without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.

Jamie Stone (Liberal Democrat) said that he was concerned by the weighting of primary and secondary legislation in the bill.

He suggested that the rights being changed are so fundamental that they should be carefully considered by the house, “rather than nodded through in some instrument or another”.

The opposition benches also took issue with the government’s pledges to help victims of violent crime.

While they signalled their support for some measures in the draft Victims Bill, the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, reminded the minister that the bill had been promised as long ago as 2015, in which time the rape charge rate has dropped from 8.5% to 1.3%. 

Coming up

We’ll be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries: