The Investigatory Powers Bill was introduced into Parliament on 1 March and had its second reading on 15 March. The Bill would overhaul the framework governing access to the content of communications and communications data by the security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper on the Bill.
The Policing and Crime Bill had its second reading on 7 March and has begun committee stage. The Bill would provide for collaboration between the emergency services and reform the system of police complaints, among other things. The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper.
The House of Lords Liaison Committee has recommended that four ad hoc Committees should be appointed during the 2016-17 session. These would consider the long-term sustainability of the NHS; sustaining the charity sector; financial exclusion and access to mainstream financial services; and post-legislative scrutiny of the Licensing Act 2003.
The implications for Scotland of repeal of the Human Rights Act have been considered in a Westminster Hall debate. Responding for the Government, Justice Minister Dominic Raab said that while the Human Rights Act can only be revised by the UK Government, implementation of many human rights issues is devolved.
The House of Commons has considered an urgent question on the newly appointed Pubs Code Adjudicator. The question was prompted by concern about the decision to appoint Paul Newby, who has previously acted on behalf of a number of large pub chains. Responding for the Government, Anna Soubry suggested that concerns about Mr Newby’s independence were unfounded.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has published guidance for Member States on preventing and remedying human rights violations by business and recommended measures to encourage the commercial sector to respect human rights. Particular emphasis is placed on providing extra support for vulnerable groups.
The Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project was launched on 2 March. The project, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and based at the University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre, maps and analyses the challenges and opportunities presented by the use of ICT and big data from a human rights perspective.
Legal aid and access to justice
The Supreme Court has granted permission to appeal in two judicial review cases. One relates to the issue of employment tribunal fees, and whether the Court of Appeal was incorrect in concluding that the Fees Order was not indirectly discriminatory. The second appeal concerns the residence test for eligibility for legal aid.
The Welsh Government has announced a new autism service for Wales. The service would provide lifetime support for children and adults.
The Senior President of Tribunals has published his annual report. Among the announcements is that a central part of our vision for the future of tribunals is that services will be ‘digital by default’ within the next four years. One of the first priorities of the Reform programme will be an online dispute resolution pilot, modelled on the paperless process of the Traffic Penalties Tribunal, in the Social Security and Child Support (part of the Social Entitlement Chamber), which deals with high volumes of cases with self-represented appellants.
The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information has produced its report of its review into the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Commission was appointed in July 2015. Its report concludes that the Act is generally working well and that it has been one of a number of measures that have helped to change the culture of the public sector. It makes a number of recommendations to improve the clarity and certainty around the operation of the Act. The Government response to eh report and recommendations is here.
Child Rights International Network (CRIN) has published a report on access to justice for children: ‘Rights, Remedies and Representation’. The report This report is the result of a research project scrutinising how the legal systems of 197 countries empower children to realise their rights, It is aimed at guiding governments on how to improve children’s access to courts and other complaints mechanisms to enforce their rights.
The Local Government Ombudsman has published a Focus Report on councils’ responsibilities in allocating social housing. The report, ‘Full House’, describes the main areas of faulty decision-making by local authorities on allocation requests, including:
- delay dealing with an application, a change in circumstances or a request to review a local housing authority’s decision;
- decisions which are not in line with the local housing authority’s allocation scheme;
- failure to take relevant information into account in reaching a decision, for example medical evidence provided by a housing applicant; and
- failure to notify an applicant of their right of review against decisions affecting their application.
Citizens Advice has published a report on complaints about public services in areas ranging from health and education to taxation and social care. The report, ‘Learning from Mistakes’, analyses complaints about public services made through formal channels as well as via social media.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has published a report on evidence from complaints on police use of force. The report, ‘Police Use of Force’, makes 20 recommendations, including the need to consistently record and publish data for public scrutiny and for forces to seek feedback from people who have had force used against them. The UK Home Secretary also announced that the IPCC is to be renamed the Office for Police Conduct and is to have its governance and powers reformed under the new legislation, the Policing and Crime Bill.
At the end of February and early March, the UK Supreme Court held three days of hearings on the Department for Work and Pensions appeal in R (on the application of Rutherford and another) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Appellant). This case involves the issue of discrimination in the application of what is known as ‘the bedroom tax’ or the ‘spare room subsidy’.
On 8 March the UK Supreme Court held a hearing on an appeal by the Northern Ireland Ombudsman’s Office of a Court of Appeal decision relating to the ombudsman’s power to award a financial remedy in a complaint against a GP. In the matter of an application by JR55 for Judicial Review (Northern Ireland), also known as JR55, is being closely watched by the ombuds community because it potentially has widespread implications. Richard Kirkham and Brian Thompson have examined these potential implications in more detail in a piece for the UK Constitutional Law Association blog, stating: ‘If upheld by the Supreme Court, JR55 risks sowing considerable uncertainty within ombudsman schemes as to the effective limits of their powers. This would be a retrograde step which would neuter the ability of ombudsman schemes to offer justice’.
The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has consulted on evidence on internal review and mandatory reconsideration by the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs. The consultation, available here, closed on 15 March 2016. UKAJI has posted the response submitted by Robert Thomas, Professor of Law at Manchester University, and Tom Mullen, Professor of Law at University of Glasgow.
A new dispute resolution procedure is proposed for planning disputes. Details are to be set out in regulation, but a consultation is seeking views on the scope of the new procedure. The deadline for responding to the Department for Communities and Local Government consultation is 15 April 2016.
The Bach Commission on Access to Justice is calling for evidence. The Commission says it ‘will seek to determine how the State can guarantee, in the context of an ever greater strain on public finances, that all those who need it have access to advice, representation and the courts. This will be considered alongside the question of how the provision of advice and the justice system can become more efficient and be made to work for the 21st century.’ The consultation is available here; deadline for responses is 29 April 2016.
The Cabinet Office has launched a consultation on Better use of data in government. It seeks feedback on how the Government can use data to improve public services for citizens and improve decision-making. The deadline for responses is 22 April 2016.
The Ministry of Justice has published the Tribunals and Gender Recognition Certificate Statistics Quarterly and the Civil Justice Statistics Quarterly for October to December 2015.