No devolution of justice to Wales says UK Government minister
The UK Government does not agree with the Welsh Government that justice should be devolved to Wales, a minister has said.
Speaking at the Legal Wales Conference today, Lord Wolfson, who is a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Ministry of Justice, said that being part of England’s justice system made Wales a more attractive place to do business.
Last week, Wales’ counsel general Mick Antoniw said that the Welsh Government would once again approach the UK Government to request the devolution of justice to Wales.
Welsh Labour’s manifesto for May’s Senedd elections included a promise to fight for the devolution of tax and justice powers.
But Lord Wolfson said that “UK Government’s position differs from the Welsh Government’s on the Thomas Commission’s overarching recommendation that justice should be devolved”.
The Thomas Commission on Justice in Wales, which was set up by the Welsh Government, undertook a review of the justice system in Wales and recommended the devolution of justice.
However, Lord Wolfson added that “we are aligned in our desire to continue to improve the way justice is delivered in Wales.”.
“Just as the Welsh Government has restarted its work in implementing the Commission’s recommendations, the Ministry of Justice has also been examining the Commission’s Report to see what can be taken forward to improve justice in Wales – and indeed is already undertaking work in relation to some of the Commission’s recommendations,” he said.
He added that the “reputation” of England’s justice system “has undeniably benefitted Wales and – as part of the England and Wales jurisdiction – has made it a popular place to do business internationally”.
“The English and Welsh common law is a critical asset to the UK. English and Welsh common law forms the basis of the legal systems for 27% of the world’s 320 legal jurisdictions,” he said.
“English and Welsh law is now, and will remain, an indispensable basis of global business long into the future.”
Writing to Senedd Members last week, Mick Antoniw had promised a fresh bid to devolve justice to Wales.
He said that there were a number of recommendations from the Thomas Commission “that are achievable under the current devolution arrangements or involve some element of devolution without transferring responsibility for justice in its entirety”.
“For example, there is a strong case for devolving the youth justice system, which the Silk Commission also recommended in 2014,” he said.
“We will continue to make the case for devolving justice and policing, and work with stakeholders to explore how best to achieve it. In the meantime, based on correspondence with the previous lord chancellor [Robert Buckland QC], we expect discussions between the two governments will begin shortly.”
Mick Antoniw said he expected talks with the UK Government to encompass the full range of topics addressed in the Thomas report.
Those included ensuring people can access court services as they are digitised, exploring the possibility of problem-solving courts in Wales, support for advice service providers, diversity in justice system agencies, the quality and location of court buildings, Welsh language provision, and the organisation of the senior judiciary including representation on the UK Supreme Court.
Thomas also recommended the establishment of a Law Council of Wales to promote the interests of legal education and the awareness of Welsh law. The council is likely to come into being by the end of the year.
However, Antoniw said the council’s remit is expected to “extend beyond legal education and Welsh law, to cover economic development of the sector and legal technology and innovation”.
The Welsh Conservatives have already rebuffed the suggestion that any justice powers could come to to Wales, calling it “another attempted power grab by the Welsh Labour Government”.
“Policing is already devolved to each police force area in Wales as a result of the Police and Crime Commissioner system which was introduced by the UK Conservative Government and the devolution of justice would cost taxpayers millions that cannot be justified at present,” Welsh Conservative Shadow Minister for the Constitution, Darren Millar MS, said.
“Instead of spending all its energy on looking for further powers, the Welsh Government should concentrate on using its existing powers to get to grips with the issues for which it is already responsible, such as the crisis in our NHS, the desperate need for young people to catch up with their education, and reinvigorating the Welsh economy post-Covid.”