Weekly Notes: 2019 election manifesto special

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:

On crime and policing: “A Labour government will invest in policing to prevent crime and make our communities safer, and we will enforce the laws protecting police and other emergency workers from violent assault.” They promise to “recruit 2,000 more frontline officers than have been planned for by the Conservatives” (which is 20,000 — so topping that by ten percent).

On prisons: “A Labour government will restore total prison officer numbers to 2010 levels, and phase out dangerous lone working. We will bring PFI prisons back in-house and there will be no new private prisons.”

On legal aid: “ Legal aid cuts mean essential legal help is too often denied. To help people enforce their rights, we will restore all early legal aid advice, including for housing, social security, family and immigration cases. We will recruit hundreds of new community lawyers, promote public legal education and build an expanded network of law centres. We will ensure legal aid for inquests into deaths in state custody and the preparation of judicial review cases. We will consult on the civil legal aid means-test levels and act on the criminal legal aid review.”

On the courts: “ A Labour government will halt court closures and cuts to staff, and undertake a review of the courts reform programme. We will facilitate a more representative judiciary while upholding its independence, and review funding for the Crown Prosecution Service.”

On sexual and domestic violence: “We will set new standards for tackling domestic and sexual abuse and violence, and appoint a Commissioner for Violence against Women and Girls” as well as reintroducing a Domestic Abuse Bill. In addition: “We will improve the safety of the family court system for domestic violence victims and prohibit their cross-examination by their abuser.”

Still on family law, they plan to “introduce a no-fault divorce procedure”, and “fully implement new laws on equal marriage in Northern Ireland so that same sex couples are no longer treated as second-class citizens.”

On employment law: “ The next Labour government will transform people’s lives for the better through the biggest extension of workers’ rights in history. We will give working people a voice at the Cabinet table by establishing a Ministry for Employment Rights.” They will ban zero-hour contracts and end what they call “bogus self-employment” by “creating a single status of ‘worker’ for everyone apart from those genuinely self-employed in business on their own account, so that employers can not evade workers’ rights”.

On discrimination: “Labour will create a new Department for Women and Equalities, with a full-time Secretary of State, responsible for ensuring all our policies and laws are equality-impact assessed in order to deliver a fairer society for women and all under-represented groups.” They will also “Adopt a British Sign Language Act, giving BSL full legal recognition in law.”

On human rights: “We are guided by our firm commitment to the Human Rights Act and Convention on Human Rights that have been consistently attacked by the Conservatives. We will ratify both the Istanbul Convention on preventing domestic abuse and the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment at work.”

They also have plans to establish as Social Justice Commission, to replace the Social Mobility Commission, with “wide-ranging powers to hold us, and future governments, to account”.

On the environment: “We will introduce a Climate and Environment Emergency Bill setting out in law robust, binding new standards for decarbonisation, nature recovery, environmental quality and habitats and species protection.”

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:

On crime: “We need a fair justice system — one that stands for the law-abiding majority, not the criminal minority, and that gives a second chance to those who have served their time and wish to make a fresh start.” To that end, they will “establish a Royal Commission on the criminal justice process”. (Which will no doubt tell them that a fair justice system is also fair to the criminal minority being tried in it.)

“Police will be empowered by a new court order to target known knife carriers, making it easier for officers to stop and search those convicted of knife crime. Anyone charged with knife possession will appear before magistrates within days not weeks. Those who use a knife as a weapon should go to prison.”

“We will embrace new technologies and crack down on online crimes. We will create a new national cyber crime force and empower the police to safely use new technologies like biometrics and artificial intelligence, along with the use of DNA, within a strict legal framework. We will also create a world-class National Crime Laboratory.”

“We will strengthen the National Crime Agency so it can tackle the threats we face, from fraud, county lines gangs and child sexual abuse to illicit finance, modern slavery and people trafficking.”

On sentencing: “We will introduce tougher sentencing for the worst offenders and end automatic halfway release from prison for serious crimes. For child murderers, there will be life imprisonment without parole.” For less serious crimes, “We will toughen community sentences”.

“We will conduct a root-and-branch review of the parole system to improve accountability and public safety, giving victims the right to attend hearings for the first time, and we will establish a Royal Commission on the criminal justice process.”

On sexual offences and domestic abuse: “ We will support all victims of domestic abuse and pass the Domestic Abuse Bill. We will increase support for refuges and community support for victims of rape and sexual abuse.”

More interestingly: “We will pilot integrated domestic abuse courts that address criminal and family matters in parallel.”

On digital and media regulation: “We will legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online — protecting children from online abuse and harms, protecting the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content, and ensuring there is no safe space for terrorists to hide online — but at the same time defending freedom of expression and in particular recognising and defending the invaluable role of a free press.” (Quite a lot to cover in one sentence, and begging the question of what happens when the invaluable free press publishes harmful content.)

Elsewhere they reiterate: “To support free speech, we will repeal section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2014, which seeks to coerce the press. We will not proceed with the second stage of the Leveson Inquiry.”

On taxation: “we will set out a new anti-tax avoidance and evasion law” and create a “single, beefed-up AntiTax Evasion unit in HMRC”. More generally, they will “ redesign the tax system so that it boosts growth, wages and investment and limits arbitrary tax advantages for the wealthiest in society” and “implement the Digital Services Tax” to ensure that “major multinational companies should pay their fair share of tax”.

On employment law, “As Conservatives we will always prioritise the principle of fairness in the workplace.” That applies to both employees and employers, it seems. For employees, or workers: “We have already taken forward a number of recommendations from the Taylor Review and will build on existing employment law with measures that protect those in lowpaid work and the gig economy. For example: we will create a single enforcement body and crack down on any employer abusing employment law, whether by taking workers’ tips or refusing them sick pay; [and] we will ensure that workers have the right to request a more predictable contract and other reasonable protections.”

But there’s something for employers too: “ Through our Red Tape Challenge, we will ensure that regulation is sensible and proportionate, and that we always consider the needs of small businesses when devising new rules, using our new freedom after Brexit to ensure that British rules work for British companies.”

On politics and the constitution: “We will get rid of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act” and “We will protect the integrity of our democracy, by introducing identification to vote at polling stations, stopping postal vote harvesting and measures to prevent any foreign interference in elections.” (The syntax suggests they plan to stop measures to prevent foreign interference — which is presumably not what they meant.)

More ambiguously, perhaps, in view of one aspect of foreign interference, they say “ We will improve the use of data, data science and evidence in the process of government.”

More generally, on the constitution: “ After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people.” Moreover, “We will keep the UK out of the single market, out of any form of customs union, and end the role of the European Court of Justice.”

On human rights, etc: “ We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government. We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.”

On the environment and animal welfare they promise “new laws on animal sentience” and “strict new laws on air quality” as well as an Environment Bill that “will guarantee that we will protect and restore our natural environment after leaving the EU. Because conservation has always been at the very heart of Conservatism.” (Has it?)

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.)

So what do they say about law and justice?

On electoral law, “ To ensure that EU citizens are not denied their vote in any election or referendum, we will also implement urgent electoral law reform, in line with the Electoral Commission’s 2014 recommendations, including introducing a legal requirement for councils to inform citizens of the steps they must take to be successfully registered and making the necessary changes to ensure that the UK has an automatic system of inclusion in elections.”

On employment law, they will “Establish a powerful new Worker Protection Enforcement Authority to protect those in precarious work.” They want to extend flexible working to all, and offer a number of proposals aimed at modernising employment rights in the context of the “gig economy”, including by:

  • “Establishing a new ‘dependent contractor’ employment status in between employment and self-employment, with entitlements to basic rights such as minimum earnings levels, sick pay and holiday entitlement.”
  • “Shifting the burden of proof in employment tribunals regarding employment status from individual to employer.”

On animal welfare, they will “Enshrine the principle of animal sentience in UK law to ensure that due regard is paid to animal welfare in policymaking” and “Ban the sale of real fur, end the use of primates as pets, clamp down on illegal pet imports and establish an independent regulatory body for horse welfare to prevent the abuse and avoidable deaths of racehorses.”

On the environment, they will “Require all companies registered in the UK and listed on UK stock exchanges to set targets consistent with the Paris Agreement on climate change and to report on their implementation; and establish a general corporate duty of care for the environment and human rights”. They would also “Create a statutory duty on all local authorities to produce a Zero Carbon Strategy”. New legislation to protect the environment would include

  • “a Zero-Waste and Resource Efficiency Act to ensure that the UK moves towards a circular economy”
  • “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”

On welfare, perhaps in answer to a decade of growing food bank dependence, they will: “ Establish a legal right to food to enshrine in law the government’s responsibility to ensure that existing and new public policy is audited for its impact on food security.”

To tackle homelessness, they will “Scrap the Vagrancy Act, so that rough sleeping is no longer criminalised” and “Introduce a ‘somewhere safe to stay’ legal duty to ensure that everyone who is at risk of sleeping rough is provided with emergency accommodation and an assessment of their needs.” It is not clear on whom this duty would lie.

On crime, they would “End the disproportionate use of Stop and Search” and “Adopt a public health approach to the epidemic of youth violence” including investing more in youth services. They would “Properly resource the National Crime Agency to combat serious and organised crime, and tackle modern slavery and human trafficking through proactive, intelligence-led enforcement of labour market standards.”

They would also “Create a new Online Crime Agency to effectively tackle illegal content and activity online, such as personal fraud, revenge porn and threats and incitement to violence on social media.”

To deal with violence against women and girls, they propose “Ratifying and bringing into law the Istanbul Convention” and “Legislating for a statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes its effects on children” as well as “Expanding the number of refuges and rape crisis centres to meet demand.”

To reform the penal system, they propose “recruiting 2,000 more prison officers and improving the provision of training, education and work opportunities” and “introducing a presumption against short prison sentences; ending prison sentences for the possession of drugs for personal use; and increasing the use of tough community sentences and restorative justice where appropriate.”

They would also “Establish a Women’s Justice Board and provide specialist training for all staff in contact with women in the criminal justice system” and take a number of measures to “Reduce the over-representation of people from BAME backgrounds throughout the criminal justice system”.

On immigration, they propose “Fixing the broken immigration system by scrapping the Conservatives’ hostile environment, ending indefinite detention and taking powers away from the Home Office” and “Giving asylum seekers the right to work three months after they have applied and resettling 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children in the UK over the next ten years.”

On human rights, they will “Defend the Human Rights Act, resist any attempt to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights and oppose any laws that unnecessarily erode civil liberties”.

On access to justice and legal aid, they will “Establish a new right to affordable, reasonable legal assistance, and invest £500 million to restore Legal Aid, making the system simpler and more generous.”

On family law, they have a number of proposals including to:

  • Introduce a right to no-fault divorce.
  • 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

On discrimination and equality they will “Tackle the rise in hate crimes by making them all aggravated offences, giving law enforcement the resources and training they need to identify and prevent them, and condemning inflammatory rhetoric — including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia — by those with public platforms.” Other proposals include:

  • “Introduce an ‘X’ gender option on passports and extend equality law to cover gender identity and expression”
  • “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.”

On devolution, they would “Create a distinct legal jurisdiction for Wales to reflect the growing divergence in law as a result of devolution” and “ Devolve powers over youth justice, probation services, prisons and policing to allow Wales to create an effective, liberal, community-based approach to policing and tackling crime.”

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.

In terms of law and justice, they propose:

To promote democracy, they would “Introduce a Digital Bill of Rights that establishes the UK as a leading voice on standards for the rule of law and democracy in digital spaces and ensure independent regulation of social media providers.” They would also “Remove the cap on fines that can be imposed by the Electoral Commission on political parties that have been found to have breached electoral law.”

On international law, they would “Require UK corporations to abide by the environmental, labour and social laws of their own country and of the country in which they are operating — whichever are the more stringent — and advocate for other corporations to do the same.”

They would also “Introduce a new law on Universal Jurisdiction, to make it easier to prosecute those committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, wherever these crimes take place” and “Create a new international ‘ecocide’ law to prosecute crime against the natural environment.”

On the environment, they would they would “Create a new Environmental Protection Commission (EPC). This will be one integrated body to enforce environmental protections, from clean air to litter-free roads. The EPC will enforce the ecocide law [see above], a new Clean Air Act, which will set new air quality standards for the UK, and a new Sustainable Economy Act, including targets for new soil quality and biodiversity standards.”

On employment law, the propose “Reviewing current employment law to close loopholes that allow employers in the gig economy (where workers are offered freelance work or short-term contracts only) to deny gig workers key rights.” They also propose: “Legislating to ensure the maximum wage paid to any member of staff in an organisation should not exceed ten times that paid (pro rata) to the lowest paid worker in the same organisation. We will also ban any bonuses exceeding the annual wage of the lowest paid worker in the organisation granting the bonus.”

On crime and punishment, they want to “boost community policing, alongside investment in education and employment” to help prevent crime in the first place; then “expand restorative justice”, “halve the prison population, as has successfully been achieved in the Netherlands, breaking the vicious cycle of reoffending” and “enhance the rehabilitation services on offer to long-term prisoners”.

On sexual crimes and domestic abuse, they will “Develop and implement a UK-wide strategy to tackle gender-based violence, including domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and trafficking. This will include working with perpetrators to prevent them from continuing to abuse. We will also reverse cuts to legal aid to prevent survivors being forced to represent themselves against their abusers in court and introduce a new Domestic Abuse Bill, which enables prosecution of economic abuse.”

On media law, they will “Establish a new press regulatory regime which will allow women to make formal complaints about media coverage that will encourage misogyny against women. This regime will allow for third party complaints to be made, on behalf of women negatively affected by media coverage.”

On equality and diversity, they plan to “change the law so an X gender marker can be added to passports for non-binary and intersex people who wish to use it, and update the Gender Recognition Act to allow trans youth and non-binary people to get legal recognition through self-declaration.”

They will also “Introduce a legal right to independent living for disabled people, overseen by a National Independent Living Support Service” and “Fully embed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into UK law.”

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?

On most topics, the contract is thin on specifics, and consists mainly of vague promises of the very type they disdain in more conventional manifestos. But on constitutional law, they do have some frighteningly specific proposals:

“It is now time for a debate on a written constitution. We pledge to:

  • Reform the voting system to make it more representative.
  • 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.”

There’s no explanation as to why phasing out the BBC licence fee will help achieve a political revolution, unless perhaps it is to become a state funded propaganda mouthpiece. Nor is it clear in what way universities aren’t already obliged to comply with the law on freedom of expression (though admittedly that is under the Human Rights Act). The chances of getting 5m citizens to support a referendum are fairly slight, but not impossible: as many as 7m signed a petition to revoke article 50 and stop Brexit some months ago. Perhaps that’s what gave them this idea? If successful, we could see referendums to reintroduce the death penalty, abolish equality laws and repeal the Human Rights Act.

Elsewhere they want to increase police, reduce immigration and abolish inheritance tax. But there are no proposals for new legislation, nothing about prisons, probation, legal aid or access to justice; and nothing concrete about employment, education, discrimination, equality or family law. In short, it’s about as enforceable as a puff of smoke from a carbolic ball.

Further reading

Obiter J, Law and Lawyers blog,

Family Law Week:

Russell Webster:

ICLR Blog — compare what the parties were saying in previous elections:

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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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The ICLR

The ICLR

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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