Here are this week’s headlines:
- Brexit Bill has first Parliamentary defeat in the House of Lords.
The House of Lords has backed an amendment of the Brexit bill, asking the Tories to reconsider their approach to the rights of EU citizens in the UK. They wanted the government to guarantee that EU citizens, who have resided in the UK for over 5 years, should be allowed to remain without the need to apply for documentation. Many of the peers who spoke described how they had received many letters from worried families, over the effect of the bill. Meanwhile, Theresa May has said that the vote will not affect the Brexit timetable, with Iain Duncan Smith (Former Tory Leader) describing the Lords as “posturing”. There have even been threats to abolish the House of Lords as a result of the vote.
- Trump's Attorney General involved with Russia
It has been announced today that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met with Russian officials during the US presidential elections, despite him confirming on Thursday that he had “no communication with the Russians”. The Justice Department confirmed that Mr Sessions had met with officials in July and September.
It follows allegations that Russia hacked Democratic organisations during the presidential election in order to sway voters in favour of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, was fired last month for essentially the same issue, having spoken to Russian Ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, about the sanctions imposed on Moscow.
The Democrats are calling for Mr Sessions to resign, or at the very least say that he should no longer oversee the FBI investigations into whether Russia did hack the election.
Read more in The Guardian.
- Sir Philip Green agrees a settlement with pensions regulator
Sir Phillip Green has agreed a £363m cash settlement with the Pensions Regulator to mend the gap in the BHS pension scheme. This will ensure that workers get the same starting pension that they were originally promised.
The deal with the Pensions Regulator follows the controversial collapse of the BHS department store chain last April, which led to the loss of 11,000 jobs and left a pension deficit assessed at £571m.
The billionaire tycoon owned BHS for 15 years until he sold it to Dominic Chappell, a former bankrupt, for just £1 in March 2015.
Sir Philip, said: “I have today made a voluntary contribution of up to £363m to enable the trustees of the BHS Pension schemes to achieve a significantly better outcome than the schemes entering the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), which was the goal from the outset.
“The settlement follows lengthy, complex discussions with the Pensions Regulator and the PPF, both of which are satisfied with the solution that has been offered.
“All relevant notices, including legal matters and claims from the regulator, have been withdrawn, bringing this matter to a conclusion.”
- Increased penalties for drivers caught using mobile phones
On 1st March 2017, the penalties for drivers caught using mobile phones increased. Penalty points and fines doubled, meaning that drivers will now be reprimanded with six penalty points on their licence and a £200 fine. As a result, newly qualified drivers will lose their licence if caught using mobile phones at the wheel of their car. New drivers who accumulate six penalty points are required to retake both elements of their driving test. Those who are caught twice can be disqualified by the Magistrate’s Court and subject to fines of up to £1000.
The government has introduced these stricter penalties to deter mobile phone usage whilst driving. In 2015, 22 people were killed and 99 others were seriously injured in road accidents where drivers were using a mobile device. In January 2017, a national coordinated enforcement week took place which resulted in 3600 drivers being handed with penalties. Representatives from the RAC has described it as a problem of epidemic proportions.
Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, stated that “Doubling penalties will act as a strong deterrent to motorists tempted to pick up their phone whilst driving and will also mean repeat offenders could find themselves banned from our roads if they are caught twice.” Research has shown that drivers using their phone are 25 times more likely to be involved in an accident.
- Parole Board has paid out £1.1million because of delayed hearings
A report released by the National Audit Office has revealed that prisoners have received 1.1million in compensation due to delayed parole hearings. The parole board are trying to reduce the delays by implementing technology to eliminate the significant backlog of cases. The independent body work closely with prison and offenders to decide whether prisoners still pose a risk to society. After evaluating the risks, the parole board will decide if an offender is to be released into the community.
The NAO report highlights that the parole board conducted 7,148 hearings in 2015/16, however one third of these hearings were delayed until September 2016. In the peak of the backlog, the parole board had approximately 3,163 outstanding cases. Furthermore, the report showed that the parole board had 463 private law damages claims in the years 2015/16 which is a significant increase from 89 claims in 2014/15. When breaking down the compensation figure of 1.1m, £87,000 was compensated in 2012/13 in comparison to £554,000 in 2015/16.
The backlog of cases has increased for the parole board following the Supreme Court’s decision in October 2013 which extended the circumstances in which the parole board were legally required to hold an oral hearing. Under the Human Rights Act, prisoners are entitled to compensation once their case is settled. A prisoner is may claim £50 per month of delays if they are not released on parole and £650 per month of delays if they are released.
The parole board welcome the NAO report and the chair Nick Hardwick is ‘pleased the NAO has recognized the huge challenges the Parole Board faced as it dealt with more cases and more oral hearings with fewer Parole Board members. As a result, the backlog of outstanding cases grew, with unacceptable delays for victims and prisoners. Given the scale of the challenge it has taken time to put things right.’
Read more in The Law Gazette.