Commission on Justice in Wales proposes full devolution of the justice system in Wales

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The long-anticipated report of the Commission on Justice in Wales has been published and, as expected, its recommendations are both wide-ranging and ambitious. They include that justice be fully devolved so that the National Assembly for Wales can pass legislation on justice related matters, and executive powers in relation to justice pass to the Welsh Ministers. The Commission’s recommendations, if implemented in full, would result in major reform of the justice system in Wales.

Once devolution is achieved, the report recommends that a High Court and Court of Appeal of Wales should be established and a Welsh Courts and Tribunal Service developed. Another key recommendation is that a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction is created, to reflect the growing body of Welsh law and the growing divergence between the law in Wales and the law in England. However, the report recommends that the current system of legal practitioners being able to practise in England and Wales, and the legal professions being regulated jointly should continue. This might allay concerns expressed previously over a possible exodus of practitioners if the systems were to separate.

Full devolution of justice, the creation of a separate Welsh legal jurisdiction and the creation of a Welsh Courts and Tribunal Service would have a significant impact in establishing an identifiable justice system specific to Wales. However, reform on this scale would require acceptance by the Welsh Ministers, negotiation with the UK Government and Parliamentary time to pass the necessary legislation. It is therefore difficult to speculate as to how quickly this could be progressed, although the First Minister has already warmly embraced the Report and started implementing some of its recommendations. In particular, he has established a new justice committee of his Cabinet with responsibility for acting on the Commission’s recommendations.

The Commission has also recommended the establishment of a Law Council of Wales as soon as possible, to have responsibility for promoting legal education and awareness of Welsh law, ensuring proper provision for teaching the law in Welsh and assisting students in their education and training as future practitioners. It is proposed that the Council should comprise a senior Welsh judge, the President of Welsh Tribunals, three representatives of the legal profession, heads of law schools, a lay representative with experience of business and legal affairs, the Counsel General and a representative from each of the Legal Wales Foundation, the Law Commission and the Judicial College. It is recommended that the Council should have its own secretariat and the Commission expects this to be funded jointly by law schools and the professions. Clearly this will require a commitment from law schools and practitioners but responses to a consultation launched by the Commission in 2018 indicated wide support for the establishment of a Law Council.

The Commission also makes recommendations in several other areas relating to justice in Wales.

The Commission on Justice in Wales is an independent commission, which was appointed by the Welsh Government in 2017 and given the task of reviewing the operation of the justice system in Wales and setting a long-term vision for its future. In carrying out this review, the Commission has taken account of the divergence in the law between Wales and England. It has also taken into account the particular approach Wales has to embedding into policy making and delivery long-term considerations such as sustainability and the adoption of rights based in international conventions. As a result of its review, the Commission has concluded that the people of Wales are being let down by the current justice system and do not enjoy the benefits that the people of Scotland, Northern Ireland and England reap as a result of justice in those regions being an integral part of policy making. Many of the Commission’s recommendations are aimed at putting justice at the heart of government and aligning policy and spending on justice with other policies.

Implementation of the Commission’s recommendations would make a significant contribution towards making the justice system more relevant to the needs of people in Wales. The recommendations are ambitious and, in some cases, their implementation would require agreement by the Welsh and UK Governments, new legislation and significant commitment of resources. It may therefore be some time before they can be implemented, if they are implemented at all. Other recommendations, such as the establishment of the proposed Law Council of Wales, could be progressed more easily and quickly.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Geldards Central, Devolved & Local Government Team.

RELATED: CENTRAL, DEVOLVED & LOCAL GOVERNMENT

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