New PM and a new era for the justice system and implications for employment rights
Bill of Rights requires 'complete rethink' – Law Society president
Following the appointment of Liz Truss as prime minister, the Law Society has said she will have an opportunity to reset the government’s approach to the rule of law and address the crisis in the justice system.
“We call on the new prime minister to demonstrate a renewed respect for the rule of law at home and with international partners when she takes office,” said Law Society president, I. Stephanie Boyce.
She said the Bill of Rights Bill in particular needed “a complete rethink” as the current draft represents “a lurch backwards” for British justice, which she said would “disempower” people in Britain while giving the state more unfettered authority.
“Our criminal justice system is facing a make-or-break moment with huge backlogs in the courts delaying justice for victims and defendants, while chronic underfunding is forcing solicitors to leave this area of work in droves and leading to the collapse of our vital network of duty solicitor schemes”, said Boyce.
She called on the prime minister to immediately implement the minimum 15 per cent criminal legal aid rate increase recommended by Lord Bellamy “to ensure the wheels of justice keep turning”.
“Investment should be made across the entire justice system, including on court buildings, to ensure timely access to justice is available to all.
“We are all facing a cost-of-living crisis and it is essential that solicitors are there when individuals and businesses need them to deal with legal and financial challenges caused by spiralling costs,” added Boyce.
“Solicitors are also feeling the squeeze of increasing costs of doing business – especially professional indemnity insurance hikes – and we call on the new PM to take action to address this and ensure they are there to carry out their vital work on behalf of others.
“We also hope that there will be support for small law firms faced with rising energy costs.”
There has also been much speculation about what Truss’s new government may mean for HR and workers’ rights. Richard Fox, senior counsel in the employment team at Kingsley Napley commented: “In-coming PM Liz Truss’ ‘pro-business’ strategy may herald the beginning of a new chapter in workers’ rights. Despite what was said in the Conservative Manifesto in 2019, and contrary to promises made by the out-going Prime Minster not to erode workers’ rights after Brexit, campaign messaging and press reports seem to indicate these may now be up for review.
He said this is likely to lead to a big debate in the business community as to what may be best from the employer as well as the employee’s perspective. “Last year when reports surfaced that the Government were planning a consultation on workers’ rights, the reaction not just from the employee community, but some employers as well, was so strong that Kwasi Kwarteng, as Business Secretary, was forced to deny there was any such plan. Will tables be turned now that we have a new Prime Minister?” asked Fox.
“More specifically, the current discussion seems to focus on working time rules in particular. However, if the new cabinet’s philosophy is that a reform of workers’ rights may help business to grow the economy, how long before more fundamental rights are called into question, such us the potentially unlimited compensation available for discrimination and whistleblowing claims? It’s quite possible that any forthcoming workers’ rights debate will echo with the “red tape” debate that caused so much controversy in the business community when David Cameron was Prime Minister”.
Fox concluded: “Finally, we saw earlier this year after significant delay, the introduction into the private sector of the new off-payroll working tax rules for self-employed workers. It seems Liz Truss may want these reviewed too. This could cause significant uncertainty for the business community and like TUPE, some employers may feel that it is best to leave well alone rather than go for another restructure of the sector when business is facing so many challenges at the current time.”