Weekly Notes: 2019 election manifesto special

In the last week the main political parties have published their election manifestos. As in previous elections, we concentrate on their promises about law and justice, and how they have been received. This post covers the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green and Brexit parties. Normal roundups will resume next week.

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Does what it says on the tin — or is it a can of worms?

Labour

The Labour Party Manifesto, subtitled “It’s Time for Real Change” attracted attention because of some very extravagant headline spending commitments, such as their plan (discussed in last week’s Weekly Notes) to roll out free broadband to every part of the UK. The manifesto contains a lot to approve of (whatever one thinks of the people who would be put in power to implement it), including the following legal commitments:

Conservatives

The Tories came late with their manifesto, only releasing it on Sunday 24 November, after the other main parties. But perhaps as the party of (minority) government, they felt entitled to enter the room last. But to what fanfare? It seemed to be all about “getting Brexit done” and the “unleashing” of the British lion currently “trapped … in a cage” that would follow. As well as the usual noises about “taking back control of our own laws” (which we never lost), and some fairly empty rhetoric, there was the following on law and justice:

Liberal Democrats

Looked at online, the LibDem’s manifesto differs from Labour’s Mao-like little red book and the Conservatives’ thin blue company prospectus in being more obviously designed as an online document rather than the PDF of a printed manifesto. You can download a PDF of the orange-covered print edition, with the simple message “Stop Brexit. Build a Brighter Future.” (To save on coloured ink, you can also download and print a monochrome version.)

  • “Shifting the burden of proof in employment tribunals regarding employment status from individual to employer.”
  • “a Nature Act to restore the natural environment through setting legally binding near-term and long-term targets for improving water, air, soil and biodiversity”
  • “a Clean Air Act, based on World Health Organisation guidelines, enforced by a new Air Quality Agency”
  • Extend limited legal rights to cohabiting couples, for example, to give them greater protection in the event of separation or a partner’s death.
  • Complete the introduction of equal marriage, by removing the spousal veto, allowing those marriages that were dissolved solely due to the Gender Recognition process to be retrospectively restored, enabling the Church of England and Church in Wales to conduct same sex marriages, and introduce legal recognition of humanist marriages
  • “Outlaw caste discrimination”
  • “Introduce a British Sign Language Act to give BSL full legal recognition”
  • “Extend the Equality Act to all large companies with more than 250 employees, requiring them to monitor and publish data on gender, BAME, and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps.”

Greens

The Greens also support remaining in the EU, and the key pledges in their manifesto are to grow democracy, improve the quality of life with a revolution in public services, and promote equality by redistributing wealth. The message on the green cover — “If not now, when?” — is a Jewish proverb that Primo Levi used as the title of a novel set during World War II. It is, perhaps, a call to arms.

Brexit party

Rather than a manifesto, the Brexit party is offering its promises in the form of a Contract with the People. You can sign the contract, if you wish, though it is not clear how it might be enforced through the courts should one party or the other be found in breach. But perhaps that’s the idea they want to promote, ie that a manifesto is unenforceable and unlikely to be adhered to, whereas they will put their money (your money, actually: the website seems to be one big crowdfunding operation) where their undoubtedly voluble mouths are. But apart from rather legalistically calling it a contract, what do they say about law and justice?

  • Abolish the unelected House of Lords.
  • Make MPs who switch parties subject to recall petitions.
  • Overhaul the postal voting system to combat fraud and abuse.
  • Reform the Supreme Court — judges who play a role in politics must be subject to political scrutiny. Ensure political balance by broadening participation in the Selection Commission or conduct interviews by Parliamentary Committee.
  • Make the Civil Service more accountable to the public — we would require civil servants to sign an oath to act with political neutrality.
  • Phase out the BBC licence fee.
  • Require Universities to incorporate an obligation to protect legal free speech.
  • Introduce Citizens’ Initiatives to allow people to call referendums, subject to a 5m threshold of registered voter signatures and time limitations on repeat votes.”

Further reading

Obiter J, Law and Lawyers blog,

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The ICLR publishes The Law Reports, The Weekly Law Reports and other specialist titles. Set up by members of the judiciary and legal profession in 1865.

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