Welsh Government preparing for more criminal justice powers
Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter
Welsh ministers are preparing for the devolution of powers over youth justice, probation and policing, the Senedd has heard.
The Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt MS told MSs the Welsh Government is not just making the case for powers over criminal justice, saying: “We’re preparing for them to be devolved.”
Ms Hutt was speaking during a statement to the Senedd, updating members on Welsh ministers’ blueprints for female and youth offenders.
She told the chamber: “We’re preparing for the devolution of youth justice, probation and policing. We’re working on the practicalities and that’s important.
“What exactly should be devolved; how we would use our new responsibilities; what are the costs and capability?
“It’s not a conversation about powers, it’s a conversation about how we produce the best outcomes for people living in Wales – and women and young people in particular.”
While criminal justice is reserved to Westminster, health and education are devolved – so the Welsh and UK Governments’ responsibilities overlap.
This was described as the “jagged edge” of Welsh justice in a 2019 report.
Ms Hutt explained that the women’s and youth justice blueprints were produced jointly with the Ministry of Justice, police, prison, probation and youth services in 2019.
She highlighted decreases in women receiving immediate custodial sentences and the number of young people entering the criminal justice system since then.
Mark Isherwood, the Conservatives’ shadow minister, said Welsh and UK Government policies are closely aligned on strategies for female and youth offenders.
He raised concerns about a residential women’s centre in Swansea that was announced by ministers only for the council to subsequently reject planning permission.
Although the centre was given the go-ahead on appeal, Mr Isherwood questioned the Welsh Government’s due diligence process.
The North Wales MS also raised an equality committee inquiry which found 60% of young people in the justice system have speech, language and communication needs.
Sioned Williams, for Plaid Cymru, reiterated her party’s call for the full devolution of justice during plenary on 24 October.
She said: “From our overcrowded prison services to the shocking inequalities in our criminal justice system to the violation of Welsh children’s rights, the state of justice in Wales is presently not fit for purpose and is harming Welsh people.”
Highlighting the case of ‘Child Q’, a 15-year-old black girl who was strip searched by Met officers, Ms Williams raised concerns about a report showing there were 134 strip searches of children by police in Wales between 2018 and 2022.
The South Wales West MS said the Children’s Legal Centre Wales argues that strip searching is a violation of children’s rights.
Jane Hutt told MSs she has raised the matter with police commissioners, asking for information on ethnicity and the number of searches undertaken.
Jenny Rathbone, who chairs the equality committee, pointed out that the Corston report was published in 2007. “We are still a very long way from her vision of how we better deal with women in the criminal justice system,” said the Labour backbencher.
Alex Chalk, the lord chancellor, gave a statement to the House of Commons last week about the UK Government’s approach to criminal justice.
In the previous Senedd term, a commission called for major reforms to the devolution settlement after the first review of the Welsh justice system for more than 200 years.
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