Note: Some Parliamentary items are included under subject-specific headings below.
Committee stage debate on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill continues in the House of Commons. The Government has suffered its first defeat on the Bill on an amendment tabled by Dominic Grieve, which provides that ministers’ powers to implement the Brexit withdrawal agreement by order will be subject to Parliament approving the final terms of the agreement by means of primary legislation.
The Data Protection Bill has reached Report stage in the House of Lords. A new version of the Bill as amended in Committee is available. It is likely to reach the House of Commons in the new year.
The Home Secretary has announced that the Government will publish a new counter-terrorism bill next year. The bill will address recommendations made by reviews into the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester earlier in the year, conducted by MI5 and counter-terrorism police (see below on David Anderson QC’s report).
The Home Affairs Committee has issued a call for written evidence on policing and security cooperation after Brexit. This forms part of the Committee’s wider inquiry into the challenges the Home Office faces in delivering Brexit, the other strands of which cover immigration and customs. The deadline for submissions is 12 January 2018.
Asylum and Immigration
The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has published a report following an inspection of asylum intake and casework from April – August 2017. The inspection looked at the asylum process from registration of a claim through to the initial decision, including the timeliness and quality of decisions. It found that the Home Office continues to struggle to keep on top of the volume of claims it receives, and that there were issues with quality of decisions as well as timeliness. The report made a number of recommendations, including that the Home Office should resource the asylum process to ensure that it is capable of managing claims efficiently and effectively even during surges in demand, and assess and provide training for all staff involved in the process.
The Home Office has announced an extension to the deadline for the dedicated immigration policy for survivors of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, who will now have until 31 January 2018 to come forward to regularise their immigration status. The policy has also been extended to enable any survivor with valid leave in another category to switch into the dedicated category.
New research has been published by the Bar Council on the rule of law and access to justice concerns about immigration detention in the UK. The research focuses on the perspectives of legal professionals involved in immigration detention and identifies that the human consequences, financial costs and effectiveness of detention are highly controversial.
The British Medical Association has published a report on health and human rights in immigration detention. The report addresses aspects of the detention system which impact on health; among its recommendations are that Government should revise detention policies to address the significant health effects indeterminate detention can have on individuals.
Pressure from the Work and Pensions Select Committee has resulted in a change to the Department for Work and Pensions approach to mandatory reconsideration of decisions on PIP and ESA. In May 2017, the DWP had revealed in an FOI request that one of the performance indicators for mandatory reconsideration was that 80% of the original decisions are to be upheld. The Committee considered this to be a target and queried how such a target was ‘compatible with ensuring that questionable reports are thoroughly investigated, and erroneous decisions identified and corrected’. The DWP has now dropped the target for decisions upheld at appeal stage. UKAJI members Robert Thomas and Joe Tomlinson submitted evidence to the Committee’s inquiry.
The Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee has published a report on the Social Security (Scotland) Bill. The Bill would pass control of a number of social security benefits from the UK Government to the Scottish Government. The Committee concluded that changes are needed to ensure that the Scottish Parliament can scrutinise the detail of the changes. Currently, much of the detail is left to regulations. The report recommends the creation of an independent Scottish Social Security Advisory Committee. UKAJI members Grainne McKeever and Tom Mullen submitted evidence to the Committee, arguing for clarity on the legal basis of the Bill’s underlying principles.
The Supreme Court will sit in Belfast for the first time in April 2018. The court will hear a number of cases including an appeal in the Ashers Bakery case, in which the Christian owners of a bakery refused to fulfil an order for a cake supporting gay marriage.
The Welsh Assembly has passed the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Bill. The Bill includes, among other reforms, a change in terminology from ‘special educational needs’ and ‘learning difficulties / disabilities’ to ‘additional learning needs’, a focus on earlier disagreement resolution, with disagreements resolved at the most local level possible; and the introduction of clear and consistent rights of appeal where disagreements cannot be resolved at a local level.
Equalities and human rights
The UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has launched an inquiry into factors which may impede individuals from using the UK’s human rights framework effectively. The Committee will focus on a number of specific issues: judicial independence; access to resources; legal independence; and, cultural factors. The deadline for written submissions is 26 January 2018.
The Court of Appeal has held that rules which denied bereavement damages to a woman who was in a relationship with her partner for 15 years before his death but was not married to him breached her human rights. The Court concluded that the award should be given to anyone who has been in a relationship for at least two years at the point of death.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire. The Commission has stated that it is not replicating the work of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry but will instead focus on the human rights and equality dimensions of the fire and surrounding circumstances.
The Scottish Government has published a race equality action plan for 2017-2021. It outlines the actions that will be taken over the course of the parliament to improve conditions for minority ethnic groups in Scotland.
The Home Office has published a consultation on amendments to the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 relating to the retention and acquisition of communications data. The changes are required to ensure compliance with EU law following a decision of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) in a challenge to the predecessor regime, contained in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014. The CJEU concluded that data retention should be targeted, rather than indiscriminate, and that where the purpose was to fight crime, a threshold of serious crime would be necessary. The CJEU held further that national legislation should provide that access be authorised by a court or independent body.
One of the proposals under consideration is the establishment of a body to independently authorise applications for the acquisition of communications data. The Investigatory Powers Commissioner, Lord Justice Fulford, has accepted the Home Secretary’s request to lead a new independent Office of Communications Data Authorisation. The deadline for responses to the consultation is 18 January 2018.
David Anderson QC, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has published a report on MI5 and police reviews following the terrorist attacks in London and Manchester earlier in the year. The report endorses the conclusions and recommendations of internal reviews carried out by counter-terrorism police and MI5, which include commitments to better data exploitation, wider sharing of intelligence, and consistent assessment and investigation of all terrorist threats, regardless of ideology.
The Law Society has initiated a challenge to cuts in fees to criminal defence lawyers in complex cases. The new litigators graduated fee scheme would cap the fee claimable for Crown Court cases. A pre-action protocol letter for judicial review sent to the Lord Chancellor states that the changes would interfere disproportionately with the constitutional right of access to justice and were introduced after insufficient inquiries.
The Ministry of Justice has announced that victims of domestic violence will get more support in taking abusive former partners to court from January. The current 5 year time limit on abuse evidence in the family courts will be scrapped and the range of documents accepted as evidence of abuse will be widened to include statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has published a report on mental health in prisons. The report describes the current level of suicide and self-harm in prisons as appalling, and criticised the inadequacy of data and screening procedures to identify those in need of support and treatment. Further problems included the deteriorating prison estate, lack of staff, the prevalence of drugs, and poor coordination of efforts to improve mental health of prisoners.
The Department for Health has published a green paper on transforming children and young people’s mental health provision. The paper asks for views on proposals, including: creating new community-based mental health support teams; encouraging schools and colleges to appoint designated leads for mental health; and, piloting a 4-week waiting time for NHS children and young people’s mental health services. The consultation closes on 2 March 2018.
The Scottish Government has announced that legislation will be introduced next year to establish an Independent National Whistleblowing Officer (INWO) for the NHS under the auspices of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. NHS staff who are not satisfied with internal investigations will be able to report to the INWO.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee held its annual session scrutinising the work of the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman on 12 December.
The Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman has published a summary of the key statistics on complaints and investigations in 2016-17 involving UK government departments, agencies and some other UK public organisations. The report also includes good practice examples of what government departments and their agencies have been doing to learn from mistakes and improve their complaint handling.
Nick Bennett, Public Services Ombudsman for Wales; Rosemary Agnew, Scottish Public Services Ombudsman; and Marie Anderson, Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman gave evidence to the Welsh Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee on the draft Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Bill. They addressed own-initiative powers and other proposed reforms to the public-sector ombud in Wales.
Publications and announcements
Justice has announced that it will host the successor to the Administrative Justice Forum. Justice will provide Secretariat functions to the new Administrative Justice Council, which will be chaired by Sir Ernest Ryder, Senior President of Tribunals. The Council will have oversight of the whole of the administrative justice system in the UK, advising government, including devolved governments, and the judiciary on the development of the system.
The Welsh Government has announced the membership and terms of reference for the new Justice Commission for Wales. The Commission, which will begin work in December and publish a report of its findings and recommendations during the course of 2019, has been established review the operation of the justice system in Wales and set a long-term vision for its future.
The Law Commission has announced its 13th Programme of Law Reform. The Commission has focused on reforms which will reduce unfairness for the citizen and those which will help to enhance the UK’s competitiveness internationally following our exit from the European Union. Among the new projects is administrative review, the process by which a government decision concerning an individual is reconsidered at the request of the individual or at the discretion of the decision maker. In some cases, requesting a review is a prerequisite to appealing to a tribunal. The project will aim to promote correct decisions, cheaper correction mechanisms, and public confidence in decision making.
The Chief Coroner’s annual report for 2016-2017 has been published. The new Chief Coroner, Mark Lucraft QC, recommends, among other things, that the Government give consideration to amending the exceptional funding guidance so as provide for legal representation for families at inquests where the state has agreed to pay for representation for police officers or other interested persons.
The Northern Ireland Department of Health has published a report on adult social care. The report makes recommendations for reform of the existing system, including an emphasis on giving control to service users and improving conditions for the social care workforce.
The Department for Work and Pensions has published a paper setting out plans to increase the number of disabled people in work. Improving lives: the Future of Work, Health and Disability sets out a strategy for getting 1 million more disabled people into work over the next 10 years. It follows a green paper published in October 2016.
The Ministry of Justice has submitted the UK’s 6th periodic report under the UN Convention Against Torture.
The Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency have published the latest statistics for legal aid in England and Wales, covering the period July-September 2017.
The Ministry of Justice has also published the latest Tribunals and Gender Recognition Statistics for the period July to September 2017 and including annual Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Tribunals for the cademic Year 2016/17.
NHS Digital has published the latest quarterly statistics on written complaints about the NHS raised under the statutory complaints procedure. Data are available for the period April 2015 to September 2017.