King’s speech announces legislation on criminal sentencing and leasehold reform

As widely trailed to the national media, reforms to criminal sentencing and the leasehold system feature heavily in the government's legislative programme in the runup to the general election expected in autumn 2024.
King’s speech announces legislation on criminal sentencing and leasehold reform
  • Measures announced in the king's speech today include:
  • A new Sentencing Bill, under which judges will be required to hand down whole-life orders in the most serious cases, including murders involving sexual or sadistic conduct. Judges will be able to chose not to impose whole-life orders only in exceptional circumstances, the government said.  
  • A Criminal Justice Bill will give judges more powers to make sure convicted criminals attend court when their sentences are handed out to hear directly from victims and feel the weight of their crimes. The government said the bill will 'make clear in law that reasonable force can be used to make criminals appear in the dock. If offenders still refuse, they will face a further two years in prison.'
  • The bill will also give the police powers to enter a premises without a warrant to seize stolen goods, such as phones, when they have reasonable proof that a specific stolen item is inside a property or premises, for example based off GPS location tracking technology.
  • A Data Protection and Digital Information Bill 'will create a new UK data rights regime, while taking tangible steps to harness the benefits of secure data use'. It will allow businesses 'to protect personal data in more proportionate and practical ways than under the EU's GDPR' and clarify rules on the use of personal data for scientific research.
  • An Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill 'will make sure the UK’s intelligence agencies continue to have the powers they need to tackle the evolving threats and technological advancements that provide new opportunities for terrorists, hostile state actors, child abusers and criminal gangs,' the government said. The measure will update the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act.
  • An  Automated Vehicles Bill will pave the way for self-driving vehicles on public roads. Human passengers will receive immunity from prosecution for if something goes wrong while an autonomous vehicle is in control.
  • An Arbitration Bill will modernise the law on arbitration as recommended by the Law Commission of England and Wales. This includes clarifying the law governing arbitration agreements, strengthening the courts’ supporting powers, and facilitating quicker dispute resolution.

The king's speech also announced legislation to make it easier and cheaper for leaseholders to purchase freehold and avoid 'punitive service charges'. The Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill wil increase the standard term of leasehold extensions from 99 years to 990 years. It will also ban the creation of new leasehold houses 'other than in exceptional circumstances'.

Responding to the speech, Law Society president Nick Emmerson said: 'The government cannot fix the justice system unless it invests in all of it. Focusing on sentencing alone is not the right approach. The long delays faced by victims and defendants in our courts are simply unacceptable and there was nothing in this speech to seriously address the crisis. The entire criminal justice system is fracturing.

'We urge the government to focus on fixing the issues in the justice system as a whole by investing in staff, judges and its buildings.'

On a similar theme, bar chair Nick Vineall KC said: 'The court system has suffered over a decade of underfunding and legal aid cuts have denied many people effective access to justice. Additional funding is urgently required both to ensure that the courts and justice system can adequately function and to enable the delivery of the draft legislation announced today.

'The Bar Council will give careful consideration to the proposals concerning whole-life sentences. There is an obvious risk that when no credit can be achieved from a guilty plea, defendants who know that they have no defence will nevertheless insist on a trial, which means that their victims have to give evidence.'

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