22-01-2019

Three new bills passed at the end of the year

Whilst it may seem like all of the government’s attention is currently on Brexit, it is worth noting that the whole business of government has not ground to a halt. Indeed, three new justice department bills came into force at the end of 2018 with the result that;

  • Mobile network operators are now able to directly block phone signals in prisons.
  • Drivers will see lower car insurance premiums as a result of fewer spurious whiplash claims.
  • Judges’ time will be freed up to focus their expertise on the most important issues.

A partner in local law firm said, “It is good to know that, despite the current squeeze on Parliamentary time, the Justice department is getting on with business as usual”.

The Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill means mobile network operators can now detect, block and investigate illegal phone use in prisons - joining the government in the fight against criminals who fuel violence behind bars. The Secretary of State will be able to authorise mobile network operators to interfere and block phone signals in all prisons across England and Wales.This builds on legislation delivered earlier in 2018 by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), including the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill which doubled the maximum prison sentence from 6 to 12 months for anyone found guilty of assaulting a prison officer. MOJ has introduced a number of other additional measures throughout 2018 to restore stability to the prison estate, including a £70 million investment in safety and security. This includes £16 million to improve conditions for prisoners and staff and £7 million for new security measures, such as scanners, improved search techniques, phone-blocking technology and a financial crime unit to target the criminal kingpins operating in prisons.

The new Civil Liability Bill will ensure that spurious or exaggerated whiplash claims are no longer an easy payday. Compensation will be capped and settling claims without medical evidence will be banned – with insurers promising to pass on savings to motorists through lower insurance premiums. The Bill also makes important changes to how the personal injury discount rate is set. Under the reforms, the rate will be reviewed in a more regular, transparent way, ensuring claimants suffering life-changing injuries still receive full and fair compensation. The changes will also reduce the burden of over-compensation on defendants, in particular the NHS and are designed to make the system fairer for all - including taxpayers and motorists.

Finally, the third bill passed in December, the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill, will allow appropriately qualified and experienced court and tribunal staff to deal with routine matters, freeing up judges’ time to focus their expertise on matters that need it most. It will also allow the judiciary to be flexibly deployed across jurisdictions where they are most needed. This Bill is designed to support a fundamental transformation of the justice system, making courts easier to use and more efficient and fit for the digital age.