The Justice Committee has published a report on the implications of Brexit for the justice system. The Committee welcomed the Government’s intention to maintain cooperation with the EU on criminal justice and recommended that it should also seek to replicate existing civil law measures as closely as possible. It further recommended that the Government should ensure that cross-border legal practice rights are maintained, along with mechanisms for resolving family law cases.
The House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee has also published a report on civil justice cooperation post-Brexit. The Committee concluded that existing measures in this area play a significant role in the daily lives of UK and EU citizens, and that a lack of adequate alternative arrangements will create great uncertainty for UK businesses and citizens. It called on the Government to make it plans clearer, and suggested that current opposition to any ongoing role for the CJEU may limit options for adequate alternatives.
The Women and Equalities Committee has launched a new inquiry looking at older people and employment, and the effectiveness of Government policies in this area. The deadline for written submissions is 9 May.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has received the Ministry of Justice’s report on progress made on the MoJ’s administrative justice strategy since 2013. Administrative Justice and Tribunals: Final report of progress against the Strategic Work Programme 2013–2016 sets out achievements against the department’s objectives in six key areas: governance; overview of tribunals outside the UTS and new appeal rights; funding of tribunals; improving initial decision-making; enhancing proportionality; and maintaining a user focus.
The Public Accounts Committee has published a report describing HMRC’s contract with Concentrix to provide assistance with the tax credit renewals process as a “catastrophic failure”. The Committee concluded that the problems with the process caused unnecessary hardship and distress for claimants and that HMRC lacked the commercial capability to design the contract effectively.
A report by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has questioned whether Ministry of Justice proposals to dramatically raise probate fees would be beyond the powers conferred by the enabling legislation.
The Prisons and Courts Bill has begun Committee stage in the House of Commons. The Bill will be carried over to the next parliamentary session in the event that proceedings are not concluded by the end of the current session.
The Supreme Court has decided a case concerning the interpretation of the Education Act 1996 with implications for parents wishing to take their children out of school during term time. The magistrates’ court had concluded that a parent who was given a fixed penalty notice for doing so had no case to answer. The Supreme Court upheld the Council’s appeal, ruling that regular attendance means ‘in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school’.
The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that in principle, employers may ban employees from wearing headscarves, provided that the ban is part of a neutrality policy as regards the wearing of political or religious symbols.
The Department for Education has published an independent review of special educational needs and disability (SEND) disagreement resolution procedures, and the government’s response. The focus of the review is the mechanisms, including complaints, mediation and tribunal, for addressing disagreements about SEND. The review was carried out by the Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research’s (CEDAR) at the University of Warwick.
The Local Government Ombudsman has published a focus report on complaints about school transport. The Ombudsman said that when making transport decisions on pupils’ transport to school, councils must ensure decisions are made fairly, legally and transparently.
From 1 April 2017, the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) is able to take complaints about publicly funded schools. Schools are now required to provide a written notice about how to complain to NIPSO once the internal complaints procedure is exhausted.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published a report, Healing the divisions, setting out plans as to how the UK can remain a world leader on equality and human rights after Brexit.
The Centre for Social Justice has published a report, Rethinking disability at work. The report seeks to explore the underlying issues behind the under-representation of disabled people in the workplace, and includes recommendations, polling data and statistics.
The Scottish Government has published a report covering progress during the first three years of its “New Scots” strategy on integrating refugees in Scotland’s communities. The purpose of the strategy is to coordinate the efforts of organisations involved in supporting refugees and people seeking asylum in Scotland in order to make Scotland a welcoming place to people seeking protection from persecution and human rights abuses. A strategy will be published later in the year
The Ministry of Justice has published the latest quarterly Legal Aid statistics, for the period October – December 2016.
The Ministry of Justice has also launched a consultation on legal aid financial eligibility and Universal Credit. It sets out the Government’s proposals for amending the financial eligibility system in England and Wales during the roll out of Universal Credit. The deadline for responses is 11 May 2017.
Police and prisons
The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has published a bulletin on self-inflicted deaths among female prisoners. It was prompted by a recent rise in self-inflicted deaths of women in prison and identifies a number of areas for improvement. These include improving suicide and self-harm prevention procedures, better assessment and management of risk, addressing mental health issues, combating bullying and ensuring timely emergency responses.
Social security and welfare reform
The Department for Work and Pensions has published its response to the recommendations made by the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) in SSAC Occasional Paper 18: Decision making and mandatory reconsideration (21 July 2016).
Other publications and reports
The Ministry of Justice has published its National Report in preparation for the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of the UK in May 2017.
The following annual reports and accounts have been published for 2015/16:
The National Audit Office has published the findings of its investigation into the Department for Work and Pensions’ closure of its 1993 and 2003 child maintenance schemes. The child maintenance schemes provide an alternative to parents pursuing child maintenance through the courts or making private arrangements. Two of the three schemes administered by the DWP schemes struggled with IT problems leading to poor customer service, backlogs and incomplete information about amounts due. The investigation examined the problems faced by parents with the closure of these schemes.
The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales has published a thematic report on poor complaint handling in the public sector. The report, ‘Ending Groundhog Day’, states that too often complaints arise from a failure by public bodies to effectively deal with complaints. Cultural change is needed in public services to ensure they learn from complaints.
The Surveillance Camera Commissioner has published a national surveillance camera strategy for England and Wales. The strategy aims to provide direction and leadership to enable surveillance camera system operators to understand best practice and legal obligations.
The Institute for Government has published a report on the wider legislative challenge presented by the Brexit process. ‘Legislating Brexit’ warns that Brexit will place a huge burden on both parliament and government departments. The extent of legislative change required will inevitably lead to the Government using different routes to make Brexit-related changes – such as using secondary legislation to amend primary legation (so-called ‘Henry VIII powers’) – that are subject to less parliamentary scrutiny.