Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘Senedd Cymru

The Legal System of Wales – recent developments

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In my book, Introduction to the English Legal System, I write that the book is “about the English legal system (which includes at least for the present the legal system in Wales)”.

However, devolution has led to a number of developments which need to be noted which point to the creation of a distinct system of government for Wales. In this context it is possible to see the outlines of a new Welsh Legal system beginning to emerge.

1 The National Assembly of Wales – executive and ‘legislature’

The first Government of Wales Act 1998 (GOWA 98) began a process of devolving powers to Wales. It created a new body, the National Assembly of Wales. Under GOWA 98 this body had executive functions in delivering policy and services in specific areas such as agriculture, culture, economic development, education, health, housing, local government, social services and planning. Henceforth, the National Assembly became responsible for carrying those out in respect of Wales.

At the same time. the National Assembly was given limited legislative powers including the making of regulations, rules and orders, and the giving of financial assistance. The National Assembly was also the body which held the Welsh Government to account.

This blending of executive functions and parliamentary functions proved to be very confusing.

In fact, soon after the National Assembly of Wales was established an informal division was created between the ‘Welsh Assembly Government’ (Ministers and civil servants predominantly based in Cathays Park, Cardiff and other offices across Wales) and the ‘National Assembly for Wales’ (Assembly Members and officials based in Cardiff Bay).

2 National Assembly and Welsh Government

The informal division between the legislative and executive branches of the Welsh Government was formally recognised in the Government of Wales Act 2006 (GOWA 2006).

This established a newly constituted National Assembly as the legislature. It also created a separate executive – initially called the ‘Welsh Assembly Government’, later amended to the ‘Welsh Government’. It was made accountable to the National Assembly.

GOWA 2006 gave the National Assembly power to pass its own primary legislation – initially called ‘Assembly Measures’, from 2011 called  ‘Assembly Acts’. These Measures and Acts were limited to 21 areas of activity which were conferred on the National Assembly by the UK Parliament in Westminster. The Wales Act 2014 increased those power by giving the National Assembly limited taxation powers.

The Wales Act 2017 changed the system for determining the powers of the National Assembly from a ‘conferred powers’ model to a ‘reserved powers’ model. (This is consistent with the models adopted for Scotland and Northern Ireland.) In a reserved powers model, there is no specific list of devolved subjects. The model operates on the basis that everything is devolved unless it is reserved to the UK Parliament.

3. Senedd Cymru or the Welsh Parliament.

The increased importance of the Parliamentary function led politicians in Wales to argue that the name of the National Assembly should be altered to reflect more clearly its legislative function. After a period of consultation and legislation, the name of the National Assembly of Wales was changed, on 5 May 2020, to ‘Senedd Cymru or the Welsh Parliament’.  With full law-making powers and the ability to vary taxes, the new name will reflect its constitutional status as a national parliament.

4. A Welsh Justice system

Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, governments comprise 3 separate branches: a legislature, an executive and a judiciary. For Wales, the first two of these are now in place. Currently, there is no clearly delineated Welsh Justice system. There are, however, moves to change the current position.

  • Commission for Justice in Wales

The Welsh Government established a Commission for Justice in Wales in December 2017. It reported in 2019. It was chaired by Lord John Thomas, who had recently retired as the Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales.

Its report is a very wide-ranging one covering such issues as: legal aid and advice; new approaches to civil dispute resolution; new approaches to the sentencing and rehabilitation of offenders and the protection of victims of crime. I plan to summarise its principal recommendations in a separate blog item.

The work of the Commission for Justice has been complemented by a programme of social research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, on the development of Administrative Justice in Wales, which has produced reports on matters including housing and education.

  • The Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee Consultation

Arising from the Commission’s report, the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee of Senedd Cymru ran,  from March to June 2020, a consultation on Making Justice Work in Wales.  Its terms of reference stated that its work should be in 2 parts: (i) fact-finding and looking forward; and  (ii) analysis of how the justice system could operate more effectively in Wales

In Part 1, the Committee intends

  • To identify and map the Senedd and Welsh Government’s existing responsibilities and functions relating to the scrutiny of justice matters;
  • To identify and review the current funding arrangements for justice matters already within the responsibility of the Senedd and Welsh Government;
  • To consider the existing operation of justice functions in Wales, including Welsh Government policies in devolved areas and their interaction with the administration of justice;
  • To consider the impact of relationships between UK and Welsh competence on specific justice matters and to identify areas of concern;
  • To consider how the Senedd could have a more proactive role in the scrutiny of justice, including how justice bodies could engage with the Senedd.

In Part 2,  the Committee is asked:

  • Using results of Part 1, to explore any areas of concern in the balance of justice powers and accordingly whether a more coherent and joined-up approach to justice policy could be achieved;
  • To consider the implications, consequences and practicalities of any potential justice devolution;
  • To learns lessons on the approach to scrutiny of justice from the UK and other legislatures.

The outcome of the inquiry has not yet been published.

Sources:

General information about the Welsh Government is at https://gov.wales/

Information about Senedd Cymru is at https://senedd.wales/en/Pages/Home.aspx

The Commission on Justice in Wales Report is at https://gov.wales/commission-justice-wales-report

The Nuffield Foundation sponsored programme on Administrative Justice in Wales is at https://www.nuffieldfoundation.org/project/paths-to-administrative-justice-in-wales

Information about the Senedd Cymru Committee inquiry is at https://business.senedd.wales/mgConsultationDisplay.aspx?id=388&RPID=1017209288&cp=yes