Whoever walks into No. 10 Downing Street on Friday following Thursday's general election will be making major changes to family and workplace law. Our work will be governed by new laws that maintain or adjust European-derived legislation post-Brexit, and set out a new template for access to justice, including postponed reforms to the Prison and Courts Bill and a call by the Law Society for improved legal security and human rights safeguarding.
The political parties have listened. As their manifestos emerge, both contenders for Number 10 have committed to major changes in social care, family law, and drug restrictions. Today, we’re reviewing the Conservative and Labour pledges, with an eye toward their impact on our work in domestic, workplace and legal drug testing.
The Conservative manifesto promises a Great Repeal Bill that will ‘convert EU law into UK law, allowing business and individuals to go about life knowing that the rules have not changed overnight’ (p.35). In the longer term, though, Parliament will be able to amend, repeal or improve these holdover laws, so the proverbial devil is in the details.
The Conservatives’ pledge to ‘enshrine victim’s entitlements in law’ suggests that the new landmark Domestic Violence and Abuse bill will ensure victims are cross-examined ‘without the distress of having to appear in court’ (p.44). This bill will also provide for a consistent working definition of ‘domestic abuse’, to be applied across all sectors. In terms of family law, the Conservatives are committed to ‘exploring ways to improve the family justice system. The family courts need to do more to support families, valuing the roles of mothers and fathers, while ensuring parents face up to their responsibilities’ (p. 73).
The role of police and crime commissioners will be widened under a Conservative government, ‘enabling better coordination of crime prevention with local drug and alcohol and mental health services’ (p.45). Community sentencing will be toughened up, focused on measures ‘such as curfews and orders that tackle drug and alcohol abuse’ (p. 45). A commitment to improving mental health services will ensure these services meet police forces and rehabilitation services halfway (p. 69).
What are the implications? Measurable evidence, such as that provided by drug testing, may become more important if the shape of a court hearing changes away from establishing whether or not an action was abusive, and if the ‘live’ environment of cross-examination is no longer a factor. Long-term drug testing - an area in which hair tests are particularly useful - may play a more significant role in sentencing and rehabilitation.
The Labour manifesto proposes a similar-but-different approach to the consequences of Brexit; Labour’s EU Rights and Protections Bill ‘will ensure there is no detrimental change to workers’ rights, equality law, consumer rights or environmental protections’ (p.25).
Labour pledges significant rights-based changes to workplace law, which include ‘giving employment agencies and end-users joint responsibility for ensuring that the rights of agency workers are enforced’ (p. 51).
Community resolutions will be banned as a response to domestic violence (p. 77), and early advice entitlements will be restored to the Family Courts. Legal aid means testing will be reviewed, and Labour also commits to ‘prohibiting the cross examination of victims of domestic violence by their abuser in certain circumstances’ (p. 80).
Rehabilitation will be less about prisons, which Labour describes as ‘a last resort’ (p.82), and emphasise ‘innovative models of justice’ (p.82). Labour also acknowledges the role of unpaid family and friends as carers, and has pledged to ‘lay the foundations of a National Care Service for England’, with increased investment in care provision and financial support through Carer’s Allowance.
What are the implications? Labour’s manifesto includes more focus on workers’ rights and workplace law. Imposing tests, particularly intrusive tests such as blood samples, may become more difficult - non-intrusive methods like hair testing may have to take up the slack.
Workplace drug testing of casual, temporary or zero-hours personnel will be more closely regulated; this is likely to impact heavily casualised sectors such as delivery and driving, with firms like Uber becoming less able to ‘disrupt’ employment practices and thus workplace regulation.
What can the drug testing industry expect?
Since both parties have committed to greater protection for abuse victims in family law cases, we can expect broadly similar changes to the role of drug testing in family law and court proceedings regardless of the actual result on Thursday.
Under the Conservatives, long-term drug testing - the sort to which hair tests are optimally suited - may become more important to sentencing and rehabilitation, since their manifesto emphasises more strict community measures. Under Labour, the role of drug testing in the workplace, particularly in casualised industries, is likely to become more clearly defined and potentially restricted.
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