Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

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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

 

 

 

 

Justice in Wales – a developing picture

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Until relative recently it was possible to state that, for all practical purposes, the justice system in Wales was the same as the justice system in England.

Since devolution began, following enactment of the Government of Wales Act 2006, this statement needs qualification. Following the passing of the Wales Act 2017, the pace of change has quickened.

Two major initiatives are in progress. First, an Independent Expert Advisory Committee has been looking at the operation of Justice in Wales. Second, the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, has been commissioned by the Welsh Government, to undertake a review of justice arrangements in Wales.

Lord Thomas’s review is expected in Autumn 2019. This note reports on the first report from the Independent Expert Advisory Committee.

The Committee’s terms of reference are to:

  • review the operation of the justice system in Wales on an ongoing, periodic basis.
  • make recommendations that ensure that the justice system in Wales keeps pace with both Assembly and Parliamentary law making within the single jurisdiction.
  • monitor the effectiveness of administrative arrangements on justice in Wales and make recommendations to deliver efficient and effective justice services across the devolution boundary, building on examples of good practice and co-operation.

The report states:

The Committee is considering the effects of laws passed by the National Assembly for Wales and the UK Parliament on the operation of the justice system within the single legal jurisdiction in England and Wales and is working strategically to identify key challenges in the justice landscape in Wales, how they can be overcome and wider opportunities for better administration of justice.

These challenges and opportunities cover all areas of the single legal jurisdiction, including criminal justice arrangements; courts and tribunals; prisons and probation; legal practice and the judiciary.

The Committee is also monitoring any issues relating to the relationship between reserved and devolved tribunals.

The Committee is also considering the wider implications of policy developments in UK government on the operation of justice in Wales, in order to recommend sustainable long-term solutions that would improve delivery. This work provides opportunity for a structured approach to tackling challenges identified in this first report on the operation of justice in Wales.

The report also states:

The key issues the Committee are currently focusing on are divergence in laws and accessibility of Welsh laws. The main priorities are to ensure that the impacts on the justice system of diverging laws and legislation are properly identified, accessibility of Welsh laws is improved and that there is continually improving collaboration between the MoJ and Welsh Government officials.

This is therefore work in progress, the outcomes from which are not yet clear. But what is clear that over coming years the justice system in Wales will increasinly diverge from that in England – an issue on which lawyers both in England and Wales will need to take note.

The first report of the Independent Expert Advisory Committee is at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/justice-in-wales-first-report-of-the-independent-advisory-committee-on-justice-in-wales

 

Written by lwtmp

September 20, 2019 at 9:51 am

The Wales Act 2017

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The Wales Act 2017 amends the Government of Wales Act 2006 by moving to a ‘reserved powers’ model for Wales. (This is the model that underpins the devolution settlement in Scotland.) The reserved powers model set out in the Act provides a clearer separation of powers between what is devolved and what is reserved to the UK Parliament. As a consequence, the Assembly has power to legislate on any subject except those specifically reserved to the UK Parliament. (One measure that has already been announced is that there will be legislation to rename the Welsh Assembly the Welsh Parliament.

The Wales Act 2017 includes a declaration that the Assembly (Parliament) and the Welsh Ministers and the laws that they make, are considered a permanent part of the UK’s constitutional arrangements and will not be abolished without a decision of the people of Wales. It is also declared that the UK Parliament will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Assembly, whilst retaining the sovereignty to do so.

The Act devolves further powers to the Assembly and the Welsh Ministers in areas where there was political consensus in support of further devolution. These include:

  1. Devolving greater responsibility to the Assembly to run its own affairs, including deciding its name;
  2. Devolving responsibility to the Assembly for ports policy, speed limits, bus registration, taxi regulation, local government elections, sewerage and energy consenting up to 350MW;
  3. Devolving responsibility to Welsh Ministers for marine licensing and conservation and energy consents in the Welsh offshore region; and extending responsibility for building regulations to include excepted energy buildings;
  4. Devolving power over Assembly elections; and
  5. Devolving powers over the licensing of onshore oil and gas extraction
  6. Aligning the devolution boundary for water and sewerage services along the border between England and Wales.

The most interesting provision from a Legal System perspective is that the Wales Act provides for establishing in statute a President of Welsh Tribunals to oversee devolved tribunals and allowing cross-deployment of judicial office holders. This could be the first step in the development of a more distinct Welsh legal system.

The Wales Act 2017 is at http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/4/introduction/enacted

 

For recent comment on the possible development of a distinct system of justice in Wales, see the report of the Justice in Wales Working Group at http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/wgc/files/2017/09/Justice-in-Wales-Working-Group-Report-Final-2.pdf, and the work of the Welsh Governance centre on Justice in Wales: http://sites.cardiff.ac.uk/wgc/justice-in-wales/

Written by lwtmp

October 6, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Chapter 3

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