Parliament opens with first King’s Speech for 70 years

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By Polly Botsford on

Lawyers on the lookout for new laws as Lord Chancellor bows before monarch in historical ceremony

Charles, in full regalia, gave his first ‘King’s Speech’ as part of the state opening of parliament yesterday.

The speech, drafted by the UK’s prime minister but delivered by the new King, contained proposals that will keep lawyers busy for months to come covering the climate, education, sentencing changes, and further bans on the sale of tobacco and vape marketing.

The annual ceremony, which marks the beginning of the new school year for our legislators, sees the monarch setting out the government’s final legislative agenda before the next general election.

Alex Chalk, the current Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, had a role to play in the ceremony, physically handing over the Speech to the King which Chalk took out of a posh pouch. He also had the job of collecting it from HRH afterwards.

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Key proposals for lawyers and their clients cover areas such as driverless cars, data protection and digital markets.

The Government intends to design a legal framework for autonomous vehicles. As it put it in its briefing published after the ceremony, the aim is: “to unlock a ‘transport revolution’ by enabling the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles.”

One item that only got the briefest of nods from the King in his Speech but that will spark joy in the hearts of many data protection lawyers and their clients is a possible Data Protection and Digital Information Bill which, according to the Government, will “allow businesses to protect personal data in more proportionate and practical ways than under the EU’s GDPR”.

And watch out Elon and others, because a proposed Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill is going to “grant new powers to the Competition and Markets Authority to address the far-reaching power of a small number of tech companies.”

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Elsewhere, the King did not even mention a new Arbitration Bill which will garner significant attention in legal services. Following a review by the Law Commission, and described by the Bar Council as ‘modest’, changes to the way arbitrations are run will be introduced. The aim is to keep England-based arbitrations a popular option for disputing parties rather than going to other centres such as Singapore or Dubai where rules have also been updated recently.

Sports lawyers in the UK could also see their work increase as a result of the establishment of a new football regulator.

Both the Law Society and the Bar Council expressed disappointment that the Government’s proposals did not include investment in the justice system. Nick Emmerson, President of the Law Society, said: “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.”

Nick Vineall KC, Chair of the Bar Council, made the point that the “ambitious parliamentary agenda” will have implications for courts:

“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 [in the King’s Speech].”

It is the first time we have had a ‘King’s’ speech in 70 years, with King George VI delivering the last one in 1950.

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