Every few years, in accordance with its statutory obligations, the Law Commission undertakes a public consultation with a view to submitting to the Lord Chancellor a draft Programme of Law Reform, writes Christopher Simpson, a Solicitor in Bishop & Sewell’s Commercial Property team.
The Commission’s 13th Programme was agreed in late 2017 and included 14 projects – which have been supplemented by subsequent additional projects referred by Ministers. Now, Sir Nicholas Green, Chair of the Law Commission, has announced the consultation for the next Programme. Suggestions are still being accepted until 31 July, so if you have any recommendations about how the law should change, now’s your chance!
Recent projects on hate crime, harmful online communications, weddings and surrogacy demonstrate that the Law Commission considers a wide range of high profile areas of the law which will be important for any Government.
As Sir Nicholas says, “The Commission has a strong reputation for considering technically complex areas of the law, for example planning law in Wales, electronic signatures or the Sentencing Code. These specialist projects may not always be an immediate priority for Government but will still be recognised as being of great significance for individuals and businesses. As recent circumstances have shown, issues which may once have been seen as low priority can suddenly become important and high-profile. It is therefore vitally important that the Commission retains the capacity to address areas of the law which are not an immediate priority for Government, but which can still offer significant benefits to wider society.
“The Commission’s Programmes generally incorporate both specialist law reform projects and projects focusing upon more pressing issues for Government. We need to demonstrate the real value and importance of any proposed reforms. Sometimes even that is not enough, and many strong ideas cannot be taken forward, perhaps because of capacity issues or because Government does not support reform in a given area. By way of context, the 13th Programme public consultation received over 1,300 responses and approximately 230 individual ideas for law reform. We finally agreed on 14 projects for the Programme.”
Possible themes the Law Commission has suggested
- Emerging technology: The Commission has traditionally been associated with reform of existing laws. But over recent times we have developed real expertise in designing legal frameworks that both anticipate and confront the implications of future technologies, for example automated vehicles and support the digital economy. There will be a growing need in the future for law which reflects developments such as AI and the use of algorithms in decision-making. In all of these areas it is necessary to consider not only the commercial and economic implications but also the need for proper consumer protection.
- Leaving the EU: Now that we have left the European Union, it is essential that we demonstrate to the world that Britain is a great place in which to live, work and invest. Clarity, modernity and accessibility of the law will help secure that position and ensure that legal services are at the forefront of enhancing the UK’s competitiveness. We welcome suggestions for areas in which the law must keep pace if we are to maintain and strengthen our standing internationally, and about areas of retained European law which should be reformed, rather than simply being reabsorbed unchanged into domestic legislation.
- The environment: There is widespread domestic and international interest in promoting reforms to safeguard our environment and this will affect existing legal structures in a myriad of ways. We are keen to hear whether there may be legal barriers which might be restricting the adoption of greener initiatives.
- Legal resilience: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted areas of the law which are outdated or which contain weaknesses which could not bear the stresses of emergency conditions. When strong law was required to meet the challenge, it proved wanting because it lacked the flexibility to meet the change of circumstance. Ensuring that the law is resilient enough to cater for exceptional circumstances should be an important aspect of the Commission’s future work.
- Simplification: A founding principle of the Commission is the simplification of law, including through codification or consolidation. Such work has not always been in vogue but its value is increasingly again being understood. For example, the new Sentencing Code, based on the Commission’s recommendations, will save up to £250m over ten years and help avoid sentencing errors. We are interested in hearing about ideas where simplification of the law can bring about real and lasting benefits to individuals or organisations.
The following projects were included in the Law Commission’s 13th Programme but have not yet started. Current reform of both Commercial property laws and laws related to residential property ownership have been of particular interest to this firm, and several Bills are still going through this session of Parliament.
The themes which haven’t yet been started from the previous programme will be rolled over into the 14th Programme:
- A Modern Framework for Disposing of the Dead
- Administrative Review
- Modernising Trust Law for a Global Britain
- Museum Collections
- Registered Land and Chancel Repair Liability
- Unfair Terms in Residential Leasehold
The Commission also notes that its 12th Programme project on Wills, which it agreed with Government to pause in order to prioritise work on Weddings, will recommence as soon as resources allow.
If you have ideas for law reform please complete and submit the online 14th Programme consultation form.
The consultation closes on 31 July.
If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this article, please do get in contact. Christopher Simpson is a Solicitor in Bishop & Sewell’s Commercial Property team. Should you require any further advice or assistance, please contact [email protected] or call on +44 (0)20 7631 4141.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.