Queen’s Speech 2015
The Queen’s Speech contained a number of announcements with implications for administrative justice.
The Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill will freeze a number of working-age benefits, tax credits and Child benefit, and reduce the level of the benefit cap. It will also put in place a new Youth Allowance for 18-21 year olds and remove automatic entitlement to housing support for this group.
The Housing Bill will extend Right to Buy to housing association tenants.
On immigration, the Government intend to introduce a bill which would create an offence of illegal working, enabling wages to be seized as proceeds of crime, and extend the principle of “deport first, appeal later” from just criminal cases to all immigration cases.
The Education and Adoption Bill will provide for conversion into Academies of schools in England that are causing concern, and provide for joint arrangements for carrying out local authority adoption functions in England. The Bill will limit the opportunities to challenge, including through judicial review, decisions to convert schools to Academies.
The Scotland Bill will implement the Smith Commission Agreement, giving the Scottish Parliament new powers over tax and welfare spending. The Bill is due to have its Second Reading on 8 June.
The European Union Referendum Bill will make provision for a referendum on membership of the EU before the end of 2017. The Bill is due to have its Second Reading on 9 June.
The Government will bring forward proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights, which would reform and modernise the human rights framework.
The Votes for Life Bill would enable British citizens who are resident overseas to continue to vote in UK elections after 15 years since they were last resident in the UK.
The Draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill would create an overarching Public Service Ombudsman, which would include the functions of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, the Local Government Ombudsman and potentially the Housing Ombudsman. This would provide the opportunity to improve public services by identifying where problems are occurring and informing the creation and development of effective responses.
The Ministry of Justice has published the latest quarterly civil justice statistics for England and Wales. These cover the type and volume of civil and judicial review cases that were received and processed through the justice system of England and Wales in January to March 2015 and the Appellate Courts in 2014.
The Supreme Court has ruled that a woman who had left her London hostel after learning that she was pregnant had not made herself intentionally homeless. The birth of the baby meant that she would be homeless, at the time her case was considered, whether or not she had surrendered the tenancy.
The European Court of Human Rights has held to be inadmissible a case concerning convicted prisoners’ social security benefits in the UK. The applicants were prisoners in psychiatric hospitals who complained that the denial of benefits paid to other patients amounted to unjustified discrimination. The Court found that differential treatment was not unreasonable given that the applicants, whilst patients, were also convicted prisoners.
The Court of Session has held that the scheme of indefinite notification requirements for sexual offenders in Scotland is compatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Inner House upheld the finding of the Outer House that the notification requirements were a proportionate interference with Article 8.
Access to Justice
The Law Society has published Affordable Legal Services for Everyone: The Law Society’s perspective setting out recommendations for incentivising public bodies to make appropriate initial decisions through the use of costs sanctions and fines.
The House of Commons Library has published Legal help: where to go and how to pay, a briefing for MPs about how constituents can access and pay for legal help.
Parliament’s Political and Constitutional Reform Committee will not be re-established, following its dissolution prior to the General Election. The PCRC was set up after the 2010 election to consider the Coalition Government’s proposals for constitutional reform.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has published Dying without dignity. The report looked at complaints relating to end of life care and sought to identify where things are going wrong, in order to help ensure improvements are made.
The Welsh Assembly has published Consideration of Powers: Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, a report on enhancing the powers of the Public Services Ombudsman for Wales. The report recommends that the ombudsman should have the power to initiate an investigation without first having received a complaint on the issue.
The Northern Ireland Assembly considered the Public Services Ombudsperson Bill on 11 May. The Bill aims to streamline the office of the Ombudsman and to strengthen its ability to investigate complaints on behalf of the public.
The European Ombudsman has issued her annual report for 2014. Key complaint themes are transparency, rights, ethical issues and citizen participation in decision-making.
The Cabinet Office are currently seeking views on proposals to combine the jurisdictions of the Parliamentary and Health Ombudsman, the Local Government Ombudsman and the Housing Ombudsman into a single Public Services Ombudsman (see Draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill, above). The consultation closes on 16 June.
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) are currently seeking views on a range of proposals aimed at making the compulsory purchase regime clearer, fairer and faster. The consultation closes on 9 June.
DCLG are also consulting on extending the remit of the Local Government Ombudsman to larger parish and town councils. The consultation closes on 30 June.