The Queen’s speech reprised

The Queen’s speech reprised

This week’s Queen’s speech has been described as a “mouse of a programme” but last year’s speech contained a raft of new measures to transform the justice system and keep both the legal profession and civil libertarians very interested. Twelve months on this is what has happened to them.

The Justice and Security bill introduces “closed material procedures” to prevent sensitive intelligence being revealed in civil courts. Comprehensively and bitterly opposed, the government quickly made two concessions, exempting inquests and conceding that secrecy would have to be signed off by a judge rather than a minister. The proposals to expand secret courts suffered a series of hefty defeats in the House of Lords Royal, reversed in the Commons, and Royal assent finally came after months of bitter political fighting, with much talk of the loss of habeas corpus.

The Crime and Courts bill set up the National Crime Agency, which will be fully operational from this October. It also reforms judicial appointments and allows magistrates sitting on their own to deal speedily with low level cases. TV cameras will be allowed to broadcast limited footage from courts, initially in the Court of Appeal and then extended to the Crown Court. Also included is reform of the extradition law, power to make drug-driving illegal and clarification of the law on self-defence.

It came politicised when a cross-party political deal was struck over Leveson press reforms. The Crime and Courts bill was randomly chosen as the legislative vehicle to pave the way for a new body to regulate the press, probably because it was in an advanced stage of progress through the House.

The Communications Data bill. The home secretary’s proposals to allow GCHQ to conduct real-time surveillance of a person’s communications and their web usage would give the intelligence services and police powers to insist that internet and phone companies hand over our data without our knowledge. These proposals proved most controversial within the coalition. They were widely criticised, not least by the House of Lords Constitution Committee. So much so that that they were moved from the fast tracked Crime and Courts bill into a stand alone bill.

Widely criticised as a snooper’s charter, Nick Clegg insisted it be put through a special scrutiny committee of both peers and MPs. The scrutiny committee, chaired by Lord Blencathra, a former Conservative minister, savaged the home secretary’s bill and demanded sweeping safeguards before it could go ahead. The home secretary did a substantial rewrite of the bill, but Clegg again rejected it, saying it was still not workable or proportionate to the problem. His intervention blocked the bill from appearing in this year’s Queen’s speech.

The Defamation Bill takes aim at trolls and, in a major reform of the libel laws, places a duty on internet service providers to try to identify internet trolls without victims needing to resort to costly legal action. Websites will also be given greater protection from being sued if they help to identify those posting defamatory messages. It will also put an end to cases of so-called libel tourism.

Other key reforms include a serious harm threshold aimed at making it harder for trivial and vexatious claims to reach court, a public interest defence of ‘reasonable belief,’ and a single publication rule, preventing libel actions being triggered each time an article is republished.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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