Getting it just right: Delivering justice in Wales

Published 31/01/2020   |   Reading Time minutes

“The people of Wales are being let down by the justice system in its current state therefore major reform is needed to the justice system and the current scheme of devolution” according to the Commission on Justice in Wales.

The Commission, in its report published on 24 October 2019 about the justice system in Wales and the changes that should be made to it, concluded that “justice should be determined and delivered in Wales”, instead of being reserved to the UK Parliament as is currently the case.

Why was the Commission set up?

The Commission was created to “deal with the unfinished business from the Silk Commission”. The Silk Commission was established by the UK Government in October 2011 to review the financial and constitutional arrangements in Wales. It made a number of recommendations about justice and policing in its Part 2 report on legislative powers to strengthen Wales.

The Silk Commission recommended devolving policing and youth justice to the Assembly by 2017. It also recommended completing and implementing a review of legislative devolution of other aspects of the justice system by 2025. However, the recommendations about devolving policing and justice were not incorporated into the Wales Act 2017. which devolved further powers to Wales.

On 18 September 2017 the former First Minister, Carwyn Jones AM, announced the establishment of a Commission on Justice in Wales, chaired by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, to review the justice system and policing in Wales. A statementwas later published outlining the membership of the Commission along with the terms of reference, which were:

To review the operation of the justice system in Wales and set a long term vision for its future, with a view to:

  • promoting better outcomes in terms of access to justice, reducing crime and promoting rehabilitation;
  • ensuring that the jurisdictional arrangements and legal education address and reflect the role of justice in the governance and prosperity of Wales as well as distinct issues that arise in Wales; and
  • promoting the strength and sustainability of the Welsh legal services sector and maximising its contribution to the prosperity of Wales.

The Commission started its work in December 2017 and a call for evidence was issued the following February.

Commission on Justice in Wales report front cover including logo and title ‘Justice in Wales for the people of Wales’

What did the Commission recommend?

The Commission made 78 recommendations in its report. The overarching recommendations include:

  • there should be legislative devolution of justice to the Assembly including devolution of youth justice, policing and crime reduction policy;
  • to accompany legislative devolution, there should be executive devolution of functions relating to justice in Wales to the Welsh Government;
  • devolution of justice should also be accompanied by a full transfer of financial resources;
  • the law applicable in Wales should be formally identified as the law of Wales, distinct from the law of England; and
  • the Assembly should take a more proactive role in the scrutiny of the operation of the justice system.

We’ll cover some of these recommendations in more detail in other articles to be published in the coming weeks.

How have the Welsh and UK governments responded to the report?

The First Minister, Mark Drakeford AM, made a statement on the report in Plenary on 5 November. He described it as a “landmark report” and said that it deserves “careful and detailed consideration from all Assembly Members”.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for justice, Chris Philip MP, during a Westminster Hall debate on the report said that the UK Government has no intention to “produce a full and formal response” because the report was commissioned by the Welsh Government, not by them.

He stated that the UK Government does not agree with the Commission’s conclusion that justice should be wholly devolved and a Welsh jurisdiction created. In doing so, he set out the reasons for coming to this conclusion, including that the cost could not be justified. However he also said that the UK Government “will work closely with the Welsh Government to ensure justice policies are aligned and to take into consideration distinct Wales needs”.

What’s happening in the Assembly?

On Wednesday 29 January the Assembly agreed to change the name of its Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee to the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee. It also agreed to add justice to the Committee’s remit. This follows the Commission’s recommendation that the Assembly should be more proactive in scrutinising how the justice system operates, and monitoring and reviewing progress on justice reform. The Commission’s report will be debated by Assembly Members on Tuesday 4 February.

Article by Manon George, Senedd Research, National Assembly for Wales