The Rule of Law and the Queen's Speech

The Rule of Law and the Queen's Speech

The Queen’s Speech marks the official opening of a new parliamentary session.  It sets out the policies and proposed legislative agenda that the government will be looking to pursue.  As we find ourselves in what, we must all hope, is the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic - much of the detail was understandably focused on how we will start to build and recover from the cross-societal impacts of the last year or so. 

 

However, there were also some interesting points for those of us interested in the Rule of Law and the extent to which the UK remains a place where it is cherished and protected.

 

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

 

One of the measures we know most about is the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.  This has been carried over from the last parliament – and which was the focus of angry demonstrations earlier this year (demonstrations which, with no little irony, the Bill would look to prevent).  Critics argue that instead of supporting the police to manage or prevent unreasonable demonstrations (or the more extreme actions of groups such as Extinction Rebellion), it unduly restricts the lawful right to protest and will effectively act as a barrier to free speech. 

 

Electoral Integrity Bill

 

A new Bill – the Electoral Integrity Bill – looks to introduce the need for identification to be produced before a person can vote in elections.  The government believe that this is necessary to guard against fraud, while others have pointed out that cases of fraud in UK elections are consistently low (in 2019, out of a pool of 47 million registered voters for the general election, there were just 33 allegations that a person had pretended to be somebody else in order to vote).  Does the seemingly low risk of fraud justify this new Bill and the potential that it may deny or dissuade some voters from voting?

 

Judicial Review

 

Another new Bill – more foreshadowed than the last – looks to limit the scope of judicial review, the process by which the courts can hold the government to account.  Since the Supreme Court judgment on the prorogation of Parliament in 2019 (and, prior to that, cases such as the triggering of Article 50 in the Brexit process), there has been growing concern in some corners of government that judges are overstepping the mark and inserting themselves into political issues rather than sticking to the legality of those decisions.  The government established the Faulks Review to look into the issue and, following its report, has brought forward this Bill.  The Review recommended two relatively minor changes to the judicial review system, and concluded that “government and parliament can be confident that the courts will respect institutional boundaries in exercising their inherent powers to review the legality of government action.  Politicians should, in turn, afford the judiciary the respect which it is undoubtedly due when it exercises these powers”.  This Bill goes somewhat further than the Review's recommendations.

 

The Rule of Law in 2021 and beyond

 

There is much else of interest in the Queen's Speech, including legislation on immigration, the ability to call elections and more.  But, where the Rule of Law is concerned, there is clearly much for us to watch and monitor in the coming months.

 

At a time when the UK needs its economy to grow and recover from the impacts of the global coronavirus pandemic, it would be concerning if it were to turn away from protections considered critical to the Rule of Law – such as free speech, the right to protest, the right to vote and the importance of everyone being equally accountable under the law.  We know that where the Rule of Law is strong and protected, economies prosper and, where it is not, economies suffer – we have shown this direct correlation in the LexisNexis Rule of Law Impact Tracker.  As such, it is important that we continue to invest heavily in protecting the Rule of Law and ensure its key principles – equality under the law, access to the law, independence of the judiciary and access to legal remedy – are not threatened or curtailed. 

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About the author:

Legal Director and Senior Counsel

Exec Sponsor, Rule of Law and CSR

James works for LexisNexis, based in their London office, as Legal Director and Senior Counsel.  In line with a personal passion for access to justice, James leads LexisNexis’s work in the UK on advancing the Rule of Law, with a focus on supporting digitisation in the free legal advice community.  He also heads up the UK CSR programme, encouraging employee volunteering and giving, making a positive impact on society and the communities around us.

A lawyer with experience both in private practice and in-house, James joined LN in 2012 as its UK General Counsel and was promoted to its board 2 years later.  He also led the legal function for LexisNexis South Africa and for regulatory media organisation MLex after its acquisition in 2015

In 2017, he moved into a mainstream business role to gain non-legal experience, and worked as the Director of Customer Success and Engagement.  Leading a group of c.40 people at the front-line of the business, his team ensured that existing customers get the most value from our products and future customers can make informed and objective decisions when moving to services and tools within our product portfolio.

James returned to his current legal role at the start of 2021.

Away from the office, James is a Trustee for the London Legal Support Trust, an Officer of the International Bar Association, and an FA Level 1 Football Coach.