Constitutional change and tweaks to the Human Rights Act are the biggest justice takeaways from the 2019 Conservative manisfesto unveiled yesterday.
The party talked about looking again at the relationship between the executive and judiciary and the issue of access to justice for ordinary people. But the manifesto says nothing about changes to overall justice spending, making no mention of legal aid or any courts upgrade. A Royal Commission will be established in 2020/21 on the criminal justice process, with a cost estimated at £3m.
The Conservatives, who have previously talked about repealing the Human Rights Act, now pledge to ‘update’ the act and administrative law more widely to ensure a ‘proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government’.
Judicial review will be available ‘to protect the rights of individuals against and overbearing state’, but the party will also ensure it is not ‘abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays’.
In the first year of a Conservative government, the party would set up a Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission that will examine these issues in depth. There is no explicit mention of changing the process for selecting Supreme Court judges; an idea mooted following the court’s prorogation ruling earlier this year.
The manifesto states: ‘One of the strengths of the UK’s constitution is its ability to evolve – as times have changed, so have parliament, government and the judiciary. Today that need is greater than ever.’
On Europe, the manifesto says the party would ‘end the role’ of the European Court of Justice, although no further details are given.
On crime and punishment, the manifesto sets out plans for a new national cyber crime force and to empower the police to safely use new technologies such as biometrics and artificial intelligence.
A Victims’ Law and the Domestic Abuse Bill are promised, as well as a pilot of integrated domestic abuse courts that address criminal and family matters in parallel. This pilot is likely to cost £25m over the next five years.
The section on housing pledges to 'continue with our reforms to leasehold, including implementing our ban on the sale of new leasehold homes, restricting ground rents to a peppercorn and providing necessary mechanisms of redress for tenants'.
The manifesto also pledges to repeal section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014, which it says ‘seeks to coerce the press’. This reform, which has stayed on the back-burner since it was passed and states that publishers who refuse to sign up to the Royal Charter-backed press regulation system could have to pay both sides’ costs in libel and privacy disputes, win or lose. A Conservative government would also not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson inquiry into the conduct of the press.