King’s Speech 2023: What techlaw lawyers need to know

November 8, 2023

The King has announced the UK government’s legislative programme for the next year. Some of the legislation has been carried over from the previous legislative period, and there are new proposals for the current legislative period.

The existing legislation includes the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill and the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

The new proposed legislation of interest to techlaw readers includes:

Automated Vehicles Bill

This Bill aims to ensure the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles. It will:

  • Set the threshold for self-driving vehicles in law. Only vehicles that can drive themselves safely and can follow all road traffic rules without the need for a human to monitor or control the vehicle to maintain that level of safety will be classified as self-driving and permitted on the roads. The Department for Transport and its agencies will be given new powers to authorise these vehicles and ensure in-use compliance with required safety standards.
  • Companies will face new sanctions and penalties if they fail in their duties. These include fines, requirements to take corrective action, and suspension of operation. Criminal offences will apply in serious cases.
  • The Bill sets out new processes to investigate incidents involving self-driving vehicles to ensure that lessons are fed back into the safety framework.
  • Local authorities will be required to send the legal orders they make (for example, to set speed limits) to a central publication platform. This data will be used to create a digital map of the road network to support the safe operation of self-driving vehicles.
  • Create new organisations responsible for self-driving. While the vehicle is driving itself, a company rather than an individual will be responsible for the way it drives. The Bill will set out the responsibilities of companies that develop and operate self-driving vehicles on roads in Great Britain. Once authorised, companies will have ongoing obligations to keep their vehicles safe and ensure that they continue to drive in accordance with British laws. They will be required to report certain safety related data to the authorisation authority and the in-use regulator and to comply with other relevant laws, including data protection and environmental protection legislation.
  • The Bill gives people immunity from prosecution when a self-driving vehicle is driving itself. However, non-driving responsibilities will remain with that person, such as maintaining appropriate insurance for the vehicle and ensuring proper loading, as well as responsibility during any part of the journey where the person is driving.
  • The Bill prohibits misleading marketing: only vehicles that meet the safety threshold can be marketed as self-driving.

Media Bill

The Media Bill has already been released in draft form and received parliamentary scrutiny. It will now form part of the legislative programme and will:

  • Remove a threat to the freedom of the press repealing Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which, if commenced, could force publishers to pay the legal costs of the people who sue them, even if they win. Publishers who have acted lawfully are currently threatened with potentially having to pay the costs of any court judgment if they were not a member of the approved regulator, regardless of the outcome of the court judgment.
  • Modernise the mission statement for public service TV so public service broadcasters (BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4, S4C, Channel 5) are encouraged to focus on what makes them distinctive while having the flexibility to serve audiences across the UK with high quality programmes on a wider range of services.
  • Ensure public service content is always carried by connected devices and online platforms, and easy to find for UK audiences for examples on smart TVs, set-top boxes and streaming sticks.
  • Ensure UK radio is easily accessed through smart speakers by ensuring listeners can continue to find the content they expect.
  • Reduce regulatory burdens and costs on commercial radio stations, to support investment by broadcasters in content and the long-term sustainability of the sector, while strengthening protections for the provision of local news and information.
  • Support Channel 4’s sustainability, including by strengthening its governance arrangements and allowing it to make more of its own programmes.
  • Allow S4C, the Welsh language broadcaster, to broaden its reach and offer its content on new platforms in the UK and beyond, updating its public service remit to include digital and online services, and formally implementing in statute other recommendations made in 2018.
  • Recognise the importance of minority language content in the public service remit for TV (covering Welsh, the Gaelic language, Irish, Scots, Ulster Scots and Cornish), and give Gaelic-language content appropriate prominence.
  • The Bill will provide for a new Video-on-demand Code, to be drafted and enforced by Ofcom.
  • Provide greater access to subtitles, audio description, and signed interpretation for on-demand content, in line with requirements on live TV.

Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill

The Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill will update the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and will:

  • Make changes to the bulk personal dataset regime to ensure the UK’s intelligence agencies can more effectively make use of less sensitive data, which is already widely available to the public, subject to appropriate safeguards.
  • Expand the oversight regime to support the Investigatory Powers Commissioner to effectively carry out their role, including putting some of their functions on a statutory basis.
  • Reform the notices regime, to help the UK anticipate the risk to public safety posed by the rolling out of technology by multinational companies that precludes lawful access to data. This aims to reduce the risk of the most serious offences such as child sexual exploitation and abuse or terrorism.
  • Update the conditions for use of Internet Connections Records so that they can be used effectively to detect the most serious types of criminal activity and national security threats, underpinned by a robust independent oversight regime.
  • Increase the resilience of the warrant authorisation processes to ensure that the security and intelligence agencies, as well as the National Crime Agency, can always get lawful access to information in a timely way.