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Regulated justice

August 14, 2012

You might be remember that I blogged a while ago about the changes to legal aid and suggested the new regulations might be vulnerable to judicial review because the MoJ hadn’t dotted the “i”s and crossed the “t”s in passing the regulations, in both the impact assessment (of the enabling legislation) and SFIT (the conclusion that the specific reg wouldn’t impact on small firms, when the IA to the enabling legislation clearly says that it does).

I mentioned I was trying to track down the Regulatory Policy Committee’s independent assessment of quality of the IA for the enabling legislation (The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012).  The RPC secretariat told me I would have to ask the MoJ.  The MoJ sent me this letter in response to an FoI request for sight of the Opinion.

Freedom of Information Request 

Dear Ms Bradley

Thank you for your email of 20 July 2012, in which you asked for the following information from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ):

  • I am seeking the Regulatory Policy Committee’s opinion on the Impact Assessment no MoJ088 entitled “Central Funds”. 

I understand that you did not receive an acknowledgement letter to your request, please accept my apologies this was due to an administrative error within the department.

Your request has been handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).

I have searched the MoJ’s correspondence system and I can confirm that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) does not hold the information that you have requested.

However, I can confirm that the Regulatory Policy Committee’s (RPC) opinion was not required on the Impact Assessment in your request as the policy did not amount to regulation.

You can find out more about information held for the purposes of the Act by reading some guidance points we consider when processing a request for information, attached at the end of this letter.

You can also find more information by reading the full text of the Act, available at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/36/contents and further guidance http://www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/foi-step-by-step.htm

You have the right to appeal our decision if you think it is incorrect. Details can be found in the ‘How to Appeal’ section attached at the end of this letter.

Yours sincerely

So the response is – there isn’t one, because it *isn’t a regulation*!!!

Um…

The coalition actually defined regulation when they started regulating the way regulations are made: the definition is at annex A (bottom of page 19) in the impact assessment guidance:

Definition of Regulation
A rule with which failure to comply would result in coming into conflict with the law or being ineligible for funding and other applied for schemes. This includes: EU regulations; Acts of Parliament; Statutory Instruments; rules, orders, schemes, regulations etc. made under statutory powers by Ministers or agencies; licences and permits issued under Government authority; codes of practice with statutory force; guidance with statutory force; codes of practice, guidance, self-regulation, partnership agreements with Government backing; approved codes of practice; bye-laws made by Government.

so… legislation that requires that the Lord Chancellor “must secure that legal aid is made available” doesn’t put him into conflict with the law if he fails to comply?

See, this is why I was a Civil Servant and not a barrister!

The only get out clause I can think of is that the Act isn’t published with an impact assessment, and the impact assessment isn’t connected specifically with the Act – the connection comes from the Explanatory Memorandum to the Statutory Instrument (The Costs in Criminal Cases (General)(Amendment) Regulations 2012) which says

10. Impact

10.1 The impact on business, charities or voluntary bodies was set out in the final Impact Assessment that was published with the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 which can be found at http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/legislation/bills-acts/legal-aid-sentencing/ia-central- funds.pdf

Maybe the MoJ have deluded themselves that publishing an impact assesssment at round about the same time as a piece of legislation covers them in case someone says “where’s the impact assessment” but doesn’t oblige them to take into account any of the rules around what an impact assessment is supposed to contain or how the legislative process is supposed to be governed?  I don’t know.  But if some stroppy legal aid lawyers would care to arrange a judicial review of the regulations I’d love to be in the public gallery.  With popcorn!

Seriously, when the coalition took over with its brave new world of deregulation and cost cutting and asked serving civil servants for their suggestions I made a serious suggestion that they should abolish my job (at the time) and the jobs of all the people working in Better Regulation teams across Whitehall and simply let the legislative process take its course.  The requirement to publish an impact assessment and to conduct a small firms impact test, where appropriate, is enshrined in Statutory Instrument Practice, the bible of how to make regulations (well, it wasn’t in the actual SIP last time I had access to a copy, because it hadn’t been updated for… well, that’s a whole other story, but it was there in one of the supplements).

So MPs ought to know, when they debate a bill (or at least when they let a Statutory Instrument go by on the nod) that it should have an impact assessment and it should tell you what its impact will be on small firms in the EM.

Let them ask questions in Parliament if they aren’t happy with the quality of the legislation they’re getting put in front of them.  Because so far as I can see, all the mechanisms they’ve put in place to raise legislative quality have become mechanisms for explaining why – although it’s a jolly good idea, Minister – it doesn’t actually, you know, apply in this case…

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