Today’s decision to call a general election could give claimant personal injury lawyers breathing space in their fight against the government’s reforms, as ministers now have just a fortnight to ram the Prisons and Courts Bill through Parliament or the legislation will be lost.
There would be nothing to stop a post-election Conservative government from reintroducing it, however, although this could have an impact on the plan to implement the reforms on 1 October 2018.
Parliament is expected to be dissolved on 3 May, meaning it is heading into what is called the ‘wash-up’ period to deal with the bills still going through Parliament.
The Cabinet Office’s Guide to Parliamentary Work explains that during this period, “the government will decide what its priorities are and seek the co-operation [of] the opposition in getting legislation through.
“In doing so there will invariably be sacrifices to be made. Some bills might be lost completely, others might be progressed quickly but in a much-shortened form. A lot will depend on where the bills are in the legislative process and whether or not they are controversial.”
After consultation with the official opposition, the leader of the House of Commons will make a statement, indicating how the government wishes wash-up to proceed.
The Ministry of Justice’s problem is that the Prisons & Courts Bill still has a long way to go to reach the statute book – today is the third day of its committee stage in the Commons, where a group of MPs are going through it line by line. There are three further days planned, ending on 27 April.
The bill then has to go back to the full House for the report stage, at which any amendments made by the bill committee are considered, following by the final third reading, which is usually a short debate straight after the report stage.
If MPs vote to approve the bill, it then goes to the House of Lords for the same process, at the end of which any differences between the two Houses have to be reconciled before it can gain Royal Assent.
The Ministry of Justice has not yet responded to our question about the future of the bill.