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The Experts' Opinion on the Queen's Speech

The Experts' Opinion on the Queen's Speech

Thursday 10 May 2012

A raft of new measures to transform the legal system were set out yesterday as part of the Queen’s Speech at the annual state opening of Parliament.  Proposals range from transforming the justice system and reforming competition law to ensuring better protection for the freedom of speech and creating greater oversight of the financial services sector and security and intelligence agencies.  

Guests at Law and More have explained some of the key items:

Patrick Charnley, media lawyer at Bird & Bird comments on the proposed defamation law reform:

Newspaper publishers and editors will welcome the Government’s intention to reform defamation law.  The press has long argued that the cost of defamation proceedings is restricting free speech and there has been a growing view, not just in the press, that existing laws are out of sync with equivalent laws in other countries. 

Although the exact terms of the new legislation are yet to be presented to Parliament,  reform is likely to follow the Government's recommendations on the draft Bill which has been under consideration for over a year. The Bill may change substantially during its passage through Parliament, but if its primary provisions are retained, we can expect fewer defamation claims to be issued. Conversely, it is possible that a higher proportion of cases will make it to trial rather than settling if defendants become more confident in the defences available to them.
Defences available to publishers are expected to be made clearer with the intention of making them more accessible. At present,  one of the most important defences  for the press  has  all but fallen into disuse as a result of the  difficulty  of relying on it. Perhaps most significantly, the Bill is likely to include a requirement that claimants establish that they have suffered ‘serious harm’, a threshold  which is intended to ensure that publishers are not burdened with claims brought by claimants in respect of publications which, although defamatory, are not actually likely to harm them.

Stuart Ruff, Associate at Thomas Eggar touches upon the Children and Families Bill:

It is pleasing and long overdue to see that there are proposals regarding fathers seeing their children after a divorce, as paternal relationships can suffer following divorce. It is to be hoped that there will not be a rush to allege [safety] concerns as a way to bypass this, which will result in the courts having to explore any such allegations and, in turn, may make cases last longer.  I would liked to have seen this provision extended to grandparents as they are often forgotten when parents separate. 

Whilst these proposals are laudable, it remains to be seen how they will work. The courts are inundated with applications relating to children and the current system can only cope with so much. 

Caoimhe O'Neill, Partner at Charles Russell LLP assesses the planned public sector pension reform:

The Queen's speech reaffirms the Government's intention to press ahead with planned public sector pension reform.  However, much misinformation and myth about the nature of these changes has been circulated over the last year, so it is likely that this issue will continue to cause controversy during the months to come.  The Government needs to take control of the message that they wish to deliver.   With the additional intention of introducing a Pensions Bill to provide 'dignity in retirement' and the fact that auto-enrolment in pension schemes will commence in 2012, the time is ripe for a wider discussion about how we plan for our retirement and what role the State will play in that.

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