The Week in Parliament
In answer to the question I posed in the first paragraph of my pen-penultimate Week in Parliament last year, the answer seems to be yes. It would be a most unusual day in Downing Street when there was not a party going on. With the steady drip feed of new revelations providing a mournful accompaniment to what many seem sure is the fall of Boris Johnson, it’s difficult to concentrate on anything but straining to hear Sir Graham Brady’s letterbox flapping as letters drop through it. Nevertheless, the world rolls on, so what has been happening elsewhere in the corridors of power?
In the Commons, the primary consultation discussion revolved around probing amendments to require the Government to consult on the potential for community wealth funds being used as part of the proposed expanded dormant assets scheme. The expansion of the scheme would allow the government to redistribute abandoned and dormant assets to worthy causes throughout the UK. In England particularly, how this should be done is coming under scrutiny.
The opposition is keen that one of the mechanisms that should be used to redistribute this ‘lost’ wealth should be community wealth funds, and have been pressing for this to be consulted upon in the post-Royal Assent consultation on how funds should be distributed in England. For the Government’s part, they have committed to including in explicit option on community wealth funds in that consultation, but as is usual the lack of trust is high.
It does raise an interesting question on whether consultation commitments such as this should be included in Bills. Statutory consultation requirements tend to be for consultations that are likely to happen on at least a semi-regular basis, rather than one-off consultations. This obviously is more favourable for governments, who don’t want to have their hands tied and actions restricted. This approach does have an analogue in the courts, where judges are generally reluctant to intervene on issues around “what should be consulted upon”, and things that fall into the province of judgments best left to decision makers.
Not in the Scottish Parliament, but the Scottish Government’s consultation on Legal Services Regulation Reform has been roundly and starkly attacked in the response by the Scottish judiciary. In terms far stronger than those usually used by judges publicly (particularly on matters that straddle law and politics), judges hit out at what they see as fundamental flaws in understanding of the constitutional positions of the courts and the Lord president as the legal regulator. They were particularly critical of one of the proposals which would regulate the legal profession via a body responsible to the Scottish Parliament, which the judges describe as “an unwarranted and unacceptable interference by the government and parliament with the judiciary” and an “interference with the rule of law”.
They also criticise the fact that despite pre-consultation evidence, the consultation seems to have proceeded on a fundamentally flawed premise, and with little supporting evidence of any need or reasons for change. It is, by any measure, a remarkable intervention. In light of the status and position of the stakeholder as a fundamental part of the very system the changes propose to upend, it will be very interesting to see how the Scottish Government respond, particularly in light of the part of the response that states “The judiciary will resist with all its strength this, and any other attempt by government or parliament to remove the Court’s regulatory powers”…