The Law Commission has spent the last half century recommending law reform to Government, with the intention of making it fairer, simpler and more effective.
The statutory body was established in June 1965 and has built trust within Parliament over the past five decades due to its reputation for expertise, thoroughness and independence.
Its latest chairman, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones is in his final month of a three year term and explains why the organisation was originally created.
He says: “Before the Commission there were ad hoc committees – the Lord Chancellor had a law reform committee; the Home Secretary had a criminal law revision committee - but they were not full time organisations.”
“The Law Commission came about largely because in 1963 Gerald Gardiner QC and Dr. Andrew Martin published a book called Law Reform Now, which called for the creation of a law commission. The following year the Labour party won the general election. Gerald Gardiner became Lord Chancellor and in 1965 Parliament passed the Law Commissions Act, which created the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission.
“So for the first time this set up permanent machinery where law reformers could work full time on the reform of law.”
Since that time two thirds of the Commission’s 200 law reform reports have been implemented. In addition the Commission has been responsible for 220 consolidating acts of parliament and 19 statute law repeal acts.
The importance of the statute law repeal process, according to Lord Justice Lloyd Jones, is that it results in the removal of “thousands of obsolete statutes, which are simply cluttering up the statute book.”
“It means that the law becomes more accessible because we are able to clear away the deadwood. Parliament trusts us to do the research, which is often quite detailed historical research as well as legal research, which enables us to say with confidence that these are obsolete statutes which no longer perform any practical purpose. As a result Parliament is then able to go ahead and repeal those.”
He is equally convinced of the necessity of modernising the law and cites a change in the law of insurance as one of the most important achievements of the Commission under his chairmanship.
Referring to the Consumer Insurance (Disclosure and Representations) Act 2012 and the Insurance Act 2015, he says: “I think one of the outstanding achievements of the Law Commission in recent years has been the insurance project, which has totally reformed the law of insurance in England and Wales. The effect of these reforms has been to achieve a new balance between the interests of the insured and the insurer, with the result that the law is much fairer.”
However, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones is also keen to stress that the procedures of the Commission mean that no one chairman is entirely responsible for the organisation’s achievements.
“I can’t claim personal credit for any of the reforms really because although I have been involved in a lot of them, the chairman is only here for three years. So, what tends to happen is that each chairman inherits projects from his predecessor, and then selects projects, which will then be completed by his successor. The Commission is extremely fortunate in the quality of its Commissioners and lawyers. Their dedication and expertise have been central to the achievements of the Commission over the last 50 years” he says.
With the Commission now on its twelfth programme of law reform he outlines exactly what areas his successor will be working on identifying electoral law, mental capacity and deprivation of liberty safeguards, and sentencing procedure as in urgent need of change.
In its current state, he says, the rules on sentencing procedure are “of such complexity that mistakes are being made even by very experienced judges, with the result that a large number of unlawful sentences have to be rectified either by the Crown Court or by the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal. All of this is very expensive.
“So, we hope to produce a Bill which will be a single point of call for practitioners, judges and the public.”
It will be up to the new chairman to see this through to its conclusion, as Lord Justice Lloyd Jones has done in other areas. With his time in the post about to come to end he reflects on why he took the position in 2012.
He says: “The great attraction about the work of the Law Commission is that it really does have the power to improve the quality of people’s lives and the power to create the conditions in which trade and industry can flourish. Law reform doesn’t often hit the headlines and politicians will tell you there are no votes in law reform, but it really does have this power to alter society for the better.”
Looking back, not just over his time as chairman, but the Commission’s 50 years in operation, he suggests that the structure and purpose have changed very little, but says its reliance on stakeholders is an aspect that has grown in importance.
“We are dependent on stakeholders to assist us in our consultations. We get a huge amount of support from different sectors, particularly voluntary sectors, from charities and from trade and industry, depending on the subject matter. It is hugely important to our work.
“These are the people who are dealing with the law on a daily basis, either professionally or they are seeing the effects of the law on individuals. They have first-hand experience of how the law is working and what its deficiencies are. So, it is hugely important to us that we have the support of stakeholders.
“The fact that we are independent of government means that many people are prepared to take part in our consultations when they may not be so willing to take part in government consultations. They know that we are independent of government and we will take our own line.
“This is an important point. We are created by Parliament, and are funded by Parliament through the Ministry of Justice. However, we are not part of the government. We are an arm’s length body and although we have very close connections with government, we are not at their beck and call. Our duty is to keep under review the whole of the law of England and Wales with a view to its modernization and improvement. Our independence is fundamental to our activities.”
It is this independence that has established the Law Commission as a highly regarded institution, and with 50 years of successful law reform behind it, the organisation hopes the next half century will be just as productive.