Politics

Remember all those controversial laws that were passed? Many of them just came into force

Many of the new bills passed at the last-minute back in April come into force today, including the Borders Bill and the Policing Bill. Here’s a round-up of what they are and why some have proven extremely controversial.

government introducing new laws

Prime minister Boris Johnson holds Cabinet meeting in 10 Downing Street in June 14. Image: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street

With mounting industrial action, endless debate over the future of the prime minister and, well, Love Island, it’s hard to keep track of all the political small print.

When the last parliamentary session finished in Westminster at the end of April, a number of bills introduced by the government were rushed through to ensure they came into law – despite some of them proving contentious.

Many of those bills become law this week. So here’s a round-up of the laws that are changing in England.

The Building Safety Act

The Building Safety Act is the government’s long-awaited solution to the building safety crisis that has proven to be a difficult issue to solve since the Grenfell Tower disaster uncovered a raft of fire defects and dangerous cladding affecting hundreds of buildings.

Many of the leaseholders caught up in the crisis have faced bankruptcy or homelessness due to sky-high bills. But the new law is the government’s attempt at protecting those living in affected buildings over the height of 11 metres.

The Building Safety Act is the first time many leaseholders will have legal protections to save them from bills to fix fire defects, instead the amount they will have to pay will be capped at £10,000 for homes outside London and £15,000 for homes in the capital.

The new law comes with big words and big promises from housing secretary Michael Gove too, who hailed the act as a “major turning point for building safety in this country”.

The act makes it illegal to pass on historical building safety costs and large invoices to qualifying leaseholders if they pass the wealth test set out in law.

Gove doubled down on that threat in a letter to the property industry, threatening up to 10 years in prison for those who breach statutory protections.

Gove said: “The law as it previously stood allowed your members to charge all leaseholders for the full cost of all necessary remediation work.

“That has led to a situation where managing agents and freeholders are sending people invoices for hundreds of thousands of pounds that would bankrupt families and leave leaseholders facing financial ruin.

“Those days are now over, and the act means qualifying leaseholders can thankfully dispose of these invoices.”

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act

Few laws have proven as controversial as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which sparked the Kill the Bill movement.

The government insist the act equips “police with the powers and tools they need to combat crime” with a number of new sentencing laws that keep people who commit sexual and violent offenders behind bars for longer.

Under the plans, whole-life orders will be the starting point for anyone found guilty of pre-meditated child murder, there will be mandatory life sentences for anyone who unlawfully kills an emergency worker in the line of duty.

The act also introduces prison sentences for taking non-consensual photographs or video recordings of breastfeeding mothers and gives domestic abuse victims more time to report incidents of common assault or battery.

It’s all part of the government’s “commitment to make our streets safer”, according to Boris Johnson.

But only when it suits the government. The controversy comes from the act’s crackdown on protests.

From today it will be a statutory offence to intentionally or recklessly cause public nuisance while police get new powers to “tackle non-violent protests” that have such a significant disruptive effect on the public like being “too noisy”.

But there is one silver lining to the act for now. The act also repeals the Vagrancy Act in England and Wales almost 200 years after it was introduced to criminalising rough sleeping. However, the government is currently developing replacement powers despite widespread agreement that none are necessary

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The Nationality and Borders Act

This act, in the words of the United Nations’ Refugee Agency “undermines established international refugee protection law”. It was forced through parliament despite months of fierce opposition from peers, campaigners and MPs. And some key elements of it come into force today.

The government says the act will “deter illegal entry into the UK, breaking the business model of people-smuggling networks, and speed up the removal of those with no right to be in the UK”.

Campaigners say it creates a “two-tier asylum system” because the laws relegate most refugees to a new, lesser status and anyone arriving in the UK outside of government sanctioned refugee programmes risks being imprisoned, or having their case dismissed by the Home Office.

With the exception of Ukraine, people fleeing most countries have no options to reach the UK legally, as safe and legal routes do not exist. 

Criminal penalties can be imposed on them simply for exercising their human right to seek asylum, says migrants charity Praxis. 

Further measures also make it easier to declare a person’s asylum claim inadmissible if they have been in a “third safe country” en route to the UK. 

Those who have their asylum claim processed in the UK will likely be granted “Temporary Protection Status”. The Refugee Council estimates at least 3,100 more people every year may be granted this status, and 3,500 may be prevented from joining family – 90 per cent of whom are likely to be women and children.

Temporary Protection Status comes with short-term grants of leave to remain in the UK, no access to the welfare safety and limited rights to family reunion.

Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz, policy manager at Praxis, said: “The government has produced no evidence that these changes will achieve the stated aim of deterring people from seeking safety in the UK. But we know from decades of experience of working with people affected by these discriminatory policies just how damaging they are likely to be. They risk pushing thousands more people into poverty, destitution and even homelessness every year, with profoundly harmful consequences for individuals and communities.”

The plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda also falls within the act – under the policy to remove asylum seekers to a “safe third country”. People who have reached the UK via “illegal” routes – such as on small boats crossing the channel – run the risk of being deported 4,000 miles away to have their asylum case processed there. A court hearing in July will determine whether Rwanda is a “safe third country” and therefore whether deporting people to Rwanda is legal. Despite the challenge, the Home Office has already announced that plans for the next flight are underway.

People smugglers can now also face life in prison.

The Health and Care Act

The Health and Care Act came into force on April 28, but a large number of changes will take effect from July 1. The act restructures parts of the NHS in England with the promise of introducing a more localised system while slashing bureaucracy.

The Act aims to establish 42 independently run Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) that cover the whole of England, combining GP surgeries, community and mental health trusts, hospitals and other primary care services as well as local authorities and other care providers.

Under the new rules, ICSs will become statutory bodies meaning they would have the power to authorise legislation.

But the shake-up has sparked accusations from critics that it is paving the way for privatising the health services.

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