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Coalition unveils ambitious programme of law reform

24 May 2010

The government has set out an ambitious programme of law reform, set in the detail of the coalition agreement.

There will be a “comprehensive review” of family law “in order to increase the use of mediation when couples do break up and to look at how best to provide access rights to non-resident parents and grandparents.”

Continuing the crackdown on claimant libel lawyers started by outgoing justice secretary Jack Straw, the government will “review libel laws to protect freedom of speech.”

The agreement is silent on the fate of the Equality Act, though there is a promise to “promote gender equality on the boards of listed companies.”

The default retirement age will be phased out and a review set up to establish the date at which the state pension age starts to rise to 66, “although it will not be sooner than 2016 for men and 2020 for women.”

The coalition partners aim to “radically reform the planning system” to give neighbourhoods more say.

The Infrastructure Planning Commission will be abolished, along with the “regional spatial strategies”. There will be a new designation, similar to SSSIs, to protect “green areas of particular importance to local communities.”

The agreement also promises to review the running of national parks to “increase local accountability”.

There is some bad news for badgers. “As part of a package of measures, we will introduce a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine tuberculosis.”

The coalition partners are keen to prevent the “proliferation” of criminal offences, as are many leading legal figures. It is not clear how the “mechanism” proposed to stem the flow would work.

Few would argue with the desire to “protect historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury” but feathers have already been ruffled by a proposal to extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants.

The parties also propose to give teachers accused by their pupils anonymity and “take other measures to protect against false accusations.”

Health and safety laws will be amended to all to remove any that “stand in the way of common sense policing.”

In addition the government will “give people greater legal protection to prevent crime and apprehend criminals.”

The US/UK extradition treaty will be reviewed to “make sure it even-handed.”

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