Westminster update: Judicial Review Bill passes Commons

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1. The Judicial Review Bill is passed by the Commons

The Judicial Review and Tribunals Bill passed report stage and third reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday 25 January.

The Law Society was mentioned during the debate by Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman, who underscored our opposition to the creation of only prospective restraining orders for use in judicial review cases.

We supported a number of amendments at report stage, including an amendment to overturn the legal presumption in favor of the use of a conditional or only prospective rescission order, which we believe would violate the judge’s discretion and could deprive successful plaintiffs of an effective remedy.

This amendment was pushed to a vote by the opposition, but was rejected by 306 votes against 227.

Another amendment we supported, which sought to make legal aid available to bereaved families in investigations involving state bodies, was defeated by 313 votes to 186.

The Bill will now go to the House of Lords, where it will pass its second reading on February 7.

2. The Attorney General questioned by MPs on her priorities

Attorney General Suella Braverman testified before the Justice Select Committee on the work of lawyers on Tuesday, January 25. The session focused on his vision of the powers of the courts and what more can be done to address the backlog of courts.

Asked about her views on the constitutional balance with the judiciary, Braverman argued that the courts had begun to stray into more political areas, with potential ramifications for the judiciary and its reputation if this continued.

She cited the Miller 2 prorogation case as an example of this, saying ‘unusual logic’ was used in the case and the Supreme Court had started to stray into executive branch territory. in his judgment which overturned the prorogation of Parliament.

Braverman was pressed on the government’s 53,000 target for the Crown Court backlog. Asked if that was ambitious enough, Braverman said progress was being made in the magistrates’ court and the government was investing more to address the backlog.

She also noted that her evidence disclosure reforms would help more, as would solving problems with the criminal legal aid system.

3. The Lease Reform Bill completes its journey through the Commons

The Lease Reform (Ground Rent) Bill completed its stages in the House of Commons this week, passing report stage and third reading on Monday (January 24) without further amendment.

The bill will return to the Lords for consideration of Commons amendments, but is likely to pass quickly.

We were quoted during the debate by Andy Carter (Conservative), who quoted our parliamentary statement concerning the role of the lawyer in advising his client on the purchase of a house.

Although he accepted our argument that “it is not the lawyer’s job to dissuade a client from entering into a particular transaction”, but simply to “ensure that the transaction is legally valid and effectively carried out”.

However, he said he was concerned that some lawyers had not sufficiently advised their clients on the implications of tenancy conditions.

4. MPs worry about lawfare

MPs held a backbench lawfare debate in the UK courts last week (January 20).

Led by David Davis (Conservative) and Liam Byrne (Labour), MPs debated the use of strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP) and the role of law firms in facilitating it.

Davis praised the UK’s legal system, but argued that it is used by “those with deep pockets” to sue journalists and attack free speech.

He argued that some law firms facilitate this work and he argued that the government should do more to end the use of SLAPPs in the courts.

Byrne agreed, calling for protective legislation and a defamation defense fund funded by a windfall tax on law firms that make money from the practice. He highlighted a number of companies he accused of being involved in SLAPPs and questioned their behavior.

The Chairman of the Justice Select Committee, Sir Bob Neill (Conservative), pointed to the extensive controls and regulations in place on law firms. He said it would be dangerous for Parliament to interfere in the rights of lawyers regarding the choice of their clients.

Although he hoped the Justice Department would consult on anti-gag laws similar to those used in the United States.

Responding on behalf of the government, the Minister for the Courts, James Cartlidge, underlined the respect that our judicial and legal profession commands from all over the world and the contribution of the sector to the economy.

He said the government was working to curb libel tourism and was monitoring the use of SLAPPs, with current statistics not identifying a dramatic increase in their use.

Future

We will work closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:

If you have come this far…

Read our response to the results of the first SQE assessment and our concern about the achievement gap between white, black, Asian and minority ethnic applicants.

We welcome the announcement that the SRA has commissioned extensive research to better understand the causes of achievement gaps in legal qualifications.