Wales’ counsel general to ask again for devolution of justice powers to Wales
The Welsh Government will once again approach the UK Government to request the devolution of justice to Wales.
In a written statement to Senedd Cymru members, Wales counsel general and minister for the constitution Mick Antoniw said that the time had come to “kick-start” fresh discussions about the future of justice in Wales.
Welsh Labour’s manifesto for May’s Senedd elections included a promise to fight for the devolution of tax and justice powers.
Wales previously had its own system of law called Cyfraith Hywel, but was annexed into England’s justice system following the Laws in Wales Acts of the 16tth century.
The UK government has however so far rejected calls to devolve justice following the Thomas Commission on Justice in Wales, which in 2019 called for full legislative devolution of justice.
However, Mick Antoniw said that there are 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.”
The Welsh Conservatives have already rebuffed the suggestion that any justice powers could come to ro 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.”
Despite this 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”