The House of Commons has debated the issue of courts and tribunals fees. The debate followed publication by the Justice Committee of a report looking at the impact of recent changes. The Committee concluded that it is not objectionable in principle for users of the courts to pay a contribution towards operating costs, but that care should be taken to ensure that the amount charged is acceptable for the jurisdiction and type of case. It also recommended that the Government should review the impact of existing changes before introducing new charges or further increases.
The Justice Committee has also published a report on the appointment of the Chair of the Judicial Appointments Committee, endorsing the appointment of Lord Kakkar.
The Committee on Standards has published its First Report of Session 2016-17. The Committee upheld a complaint that the former shadow solicitor general Karl Turner had failed to declare that his wife worked for a law firm bidding for legal aid contracts when asking parliamentary questions about legal aid contracts.
The Home Affairs Committee has published a report on the College of Policing, which criticised the “alarming lack of consistency” in the way different forces implement the Code of Ethics.
The Government has published a Higher Education and Research Bill which would introduce a range of measures aimed at increasing competition and choice in the higher education sector and raising standards and capabilities in UK research. The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper.
The Deputy First Minister has indicated to the Scottish Parliament that implementation of the named person scheme under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 has been delayed. The scheme, which would involve all children being assigned a “named person” such as a teacher or health visitor to facilitate access to advice and services, had been due to come into force in August. However, it has been the subject of a legal challenge on the basis, among other things, that it constitutes a breach of the Article 8 right to private and family life. The Supreme Court’s judgment is currently pending.
The Government has published its response to the report by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability. The Select Committee’s report, published in March 2016, followed its inquiry into implementation and enforceability of the disability provisions of the Act. Campaigners, including Baroness Campbell, a member of the Select Committee, expressed her disappointment at the response. An analysis by Disability News Service of the government’s response suggests that it accepted in full only about eight of the committee’s 55 recommendations and rejected or disagreed with about 26, while partially accepting just six more. The position on the other 15 was either unclear or saw the government pass responsibility to organisations such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Immigration and asylum
The Home Office has published new guidance on the treatment of pregnant women in immigration detention and on tracing family members of unaccompanied asylum seeking children.
The Home Office has also published a collection of guidance documents on the Immigration Act 2016 to coincide with the commencement of a number of provisions.
Legal aid and access to justice
The Supreme Court has handed down its judgment in a challenge to the legal aid residence test brought by the Public Law Project. The Supreme Court indicated half way through the hearing in April that it would allow the PLP’s appeal on the grounds that the proposed test was ultra vires. The test would have provided that only those who were lawfully resident in the UK at the time of the application and who had been resident for at least 12 months would be entitled to legal aid. The court concluded that the proposed test was ultra vires because LASPO did not confer a power on the Lord Chancellor to reduce the class of individuals who are entitled to receive legal aid by reference to characteristics or circumstances unrelated to the provision of legal aid (residency).
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has published its concluding observations on the sixth period report on Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The report highlights reforms to the legal aid system, the introduction of employment tribunal fees and changes to the social security system as major human rights concerns.
The General Counsel for Wales, Mick Antoniw, has given a speech in which he suggested that the UK Government’s cuts to the justice system threaten fundamental rights to access the justice system.
The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has criticised a London council after it did not carry out the remedy it had previously agreed to provide. The LGO investigation report highlights how London Borough of Lewisham failed to put things right for a complainant, causing her to complain to the LGO for a second time to resolve her complaint about overpaid housing and Council tax benefits.
Dame Julie Mellor has resigned from the post of Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO). Mellor said she has decided to resign now to give government time to consider the possibility of a joint appointment to the PHSO and Local Government Ombudsman roles as part of the proposal for a single public services ombudsman, which was the subject of a consultation and government response last year. The Government had announced its intention to publish a Draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill during the 2015-16 Session of Parliament, although this might be delayed following the June 2016 referendum on EU membership.
Police and Prisons
HMIP has published a report on an unannounced inspection of HMP Frankland. The report concluded that it is a “safe and decent prison, focused on rehabilitation”.
The College of Policing has published new guidance on undercover policing.
The Scottish Government has refused to commit to setting up an inquiry into controversial undercover policing practices if the ongoing Undercover Policing Inquiry is not extended north of the border by the Home Office.
The Home Office has published statistics on the Operation of police powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 for the financial year ending March 2016.
The Home Office has issued a call for evidence in relation to its independent review into the application of sharia law. Evidence is requested from those with relevant knowledge, expertise or experience on the use of sharia law. The deadline for responses is 16 August.
The Ministry of Justice has launched a consultation on proposals to make amendments to the Legal Services Act 2007. The proposals would amendment the regulatory framework for legal services to reduce barriers and encourage competition. The deadline for responses is 3 August.
The Ministry of Justice has published its response to an earlier consultation on reform of judicial review. The response indicates that the Government intend to retain the general approach set out in the consultation with the aim of achieving greater transparency in how JRs are funded; limiting the potential for third-party funders to avoid liability for litigation costs; and limiting the use of cost capping orders. MOJ is also consulting further on one aspect of the proposals, regarding the provision to other parties of financial information under the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. The deadline is 18 August.
The Law Commission has launched a consultation on its 13th programme of law reform. It is seeking responses on possible changes to the substantive law of England and Wales, including (but not limited to) those where Parliament has legislated, or secondary legislation has been enacted, in response to EU directives. It is also seeking responses to a number of potential projects on specific areas, including arbitration and inquiries. The deadline is 31 October 2016.
The Carers Trust has published a report, Care Act for carers one year on: Lessons learned, Next steps. The report found that a majority of carers had noticed no difference since the introduction of new rights under the Care Act 2014, and concluded that implementation by local authorities has been patchy and incomplete. It recommended that the Government should invest in support to ensure the new legal rights for carers are fully introduced in all areas.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has published its annual Budget Survey, providing an analysis of the state of adult social care finances drawn from the experiences of current leaders in adult social care.
Reports and publications
The Law Commission has published a report recommending a new approach to law making in Wales and ways to make the existing law applicable in Wales clearer, simpler and easier to access. This would include consolidating and codifying significant areas of legislation such as education, housing, health and planning. The report also makes recommendations to help the Welsh Government and judiciary develop and apply law made in the Welsh language, considering existing practices for drafting and interpreting bilingual legislation.
The Information Commissioner has published an annual report and financial statement for 2015/16.
The Legal Services Board has also published an annual report for 2015/16, as have the Ministry of Justice and NOMS.
The Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law has published a report on the future of online dispute resolution (ODR) in the courts. ‘ODR and the Courts: The promise of 100% access to justice?’ reports on ideas presented at the annual Online Dispute Resolution conference in the Hague and reflects practices in ODR innovations in various legal systems.
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