That-was-the-weekThe Ministry of Justice’s consultation on further changes to legal aid closed. Many organisations have posted their responses, and the mood has been described as one of “total condemnation” towards the proposals. Criticisms include the problems intrinsic to the plan to pay legal aid lawyers the same for a ‘guilty’ plea as a ‘not guilty’ plea; the introduction of price competitive tendering for criminal advocates; and potentially discriminatory residence tests.

Family Justice Minister Lord McNally is pressing for more divorcing couples to consider mediation rather than immediately resorting to potentially long, traumatic and expensive court hearings. Changes in the Children and Families Bill currently progressing through Parliament would see separating couples attending an initial information and assessment session to decide whether mediation would be a preferable option. Last year 67% of all publicly funded couples resolved their divorces out of court.

On Tuesday the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill passed its Second Reading in the House of Lords. The Church of England has since given up on trying to block equal marriage in the upper house. The Bishop of Leicester, who convenes the bishops in the House of Lords, said:

“Both Houses of Parliament have now expressed a clear view by large majorities on the principle that there should be legislation to enable same-sex marriages to take place in England and Wales. It is now the duty and responsibility of the Bishops who sit in the House of Lords to recognise the implications of this decision and to join with other Members in the task of considering how this legislation can be put into better shape.

“For the Bishops the issue now is not primarily one of protections and exemptions for people of faith, important though it is to get that right, not least where teaching in schools and freedom of speech are concerned. The Bill now requires improvement in a number of other key respects, including in its approach to the question of fidelity in marriage and the rights of children.”

Public authority use of surveillance cameras is now subject to a new code of practice – the Home Office published new guidelines that are designed to promote the principle of ‘surveillance by consent’. The guidance for CCTV and Automatic Number Plate Recognition encourages transparency in their use, and requires local authorities and the police to consider whether new cameras are proportionate.

William Hague announced that the British Government is to pay damages to more than 5,000 elderly Kenyans who suffered torture and abuse in the 1950s under British colonial administration, and apologised for their suffering. The Mau Mau was a movement in Kenya that sought to end colonial rule and supporters were detained in camps, with thousands being tortured or executed. In the court action brought by the victims the Foreign Office had not disputed that the claimants had suffered at the hands of the colonial administration, but argued the claims exceeded the limitation period and witnesses and documents were not available.