Responding to the legislative programme outlined in last week’s Queen’s speech, Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff stressed that the UK’s £30bn legal sector relies on a ‘stable and attractive’ business environment and attracting the best talent.
She said: ‘Coupled with ongoing reforms to the UK banking sector and increasing uncertainty over the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU, there is a danger that international firms and potential investors will begin to think twice about basing themselves in the UK.’
The programme includes 17 new bills and two draft bills to be taken forward, ranging from reforms of rehabilitation and immigration to measures on intellectual property, consumer rights and industrial disease compensation.
The Law Society welcomed the proposed consumer rights, intellectual property and deregulation bills, which it hopes will consolidate and simplify the current legislation. Lawyers also gave a mixed reaction to the programme.
Nichola Carter, head of immigration at niche London firm Carter Thomas, described the proposals to tighten controls on immigrants as ‘extremely worrying’. Requiring landlords to check the status of their tenants ‘risks exposing individuals to unlawful interference of their right to private life’, she said.
Meanwhile, senior probation officers criticised the government’s plans to scale back the 106-year-old Probation Service and offer private companies and charities payment-by-results contracts to manage offenders.
Justice secretary Chris Grayling told the Commons that the probation service would deal only with the 30% of offenders classified as high-risk. The rest of the service will be contracted out.
The mesothelioma bill, which will establish a payment scheme for people with diffuse mesothelioma whose employer’s liability insurance company cannot be traced, also generated criticism. The scheme will be funded by the insurance industry, which has welcomed the initiative and said it will offer support for up to 3,000 sufferers.
But Adrian Budgen, head of the asbestos-related disease team at national firm Irwin Mitchell, predicted the settlements in the new scheme would be 30% lower than the current average compensation for sufferers.
It will also apply only to those diagnosed after 25 July 2012 and will exclude those suffering from diseases other than mesothelioma. Budgen said: ‘What [victims] really deserve is full and fair financial security for their families – not to be fed into an automated process which will short change innocent victims.’
The deregulation bill, which will be published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny, will ‘reduce or remove burdens on businesses, civil society, public bodies and the taxpayer’. The government said that the bill would also tidy up the statute book by repealing legislation that is no longer of any practical use.
The intellectual property bill will implement reforms of design rights recommended by the 2011 Hargreaves review of intellectual property and implement the Unified Patent Court agreed by EU member states last year, introducing a single patent system in almost all EU countries.
The draft consumer rights bill will consolidate eight pieces of legislation on consumer rights into one place to give consumers clearer rights, ensure that rights keep pace with technological advances and provide new protections. The bill will also update the law to take account of purchases of digital content.
The government also revealed that it is looking at ways to improve the investigation of crimes committed in cyberspace by enabling the police to identify individuals through their internet protocol address.