Last month, the Welsh Government issued a publication calling for the devolution of justice and policing in Wales.
The premise of the document, called, “Delivering Justice for Wales”, argues that “the underlying reasons for pressures on the justice system can only be addressed by taking a preventative, holistic and inclusive approach”, and concludes that the “core components” of a justice system in Wales could potentially include:
- A focus on prevention and rehabilitation
- Offering mental health and substance misuse treatment as an alternative to custody where appropriate
- Taking a rights based approach to law and policy making, and expanding the incorporation of internationally agreed rights into domestic law.
The Welsh Government has also pledged to tackle violence against women and the low levels of conviction rates for sexual and domestic abuse which some experts believe have reached “epidemic levels” in England and Wales.
However, Wales’ call for the devolution of justice has been met with predictable resistance by the Welsh Conservatives and in Westminster, with Lord Wolfson of Tredegar arguing that the current system is a “critical asset” to the UK, and that the England and Wales common law makes Wales a “more attractive place to do business”.
Conversely, the findings of the Thomas Commission on the devolution of justice, would appear to suggest that the justice system in Wales needs to better reflect the emerging social, legal and cultural differences that are unique to the needs of Wales.
Indeed, although England and Wales have shared a joint legal system since the Act of Union in 1536, examples of Wales’ unique approach to law and social justice can be seen as far back as the thirteenth century under the “Laws of Hywel Dda”- named after the 10th century Deheubarth King who was responsible for its’ codification.
The manuscripts’ apparent focus on fairness and rights of women was a novel concept in much of medieval Europe, and has been marvelled by modern historians.
Furthermore, throughout much of England and Wales’ joint legal history, evidence has emerged of the two countries’ diverging approaches to justice as far back as the eighteenth century.
Deviations often saw local judges in Wales preferring the use of restorative justice to resolve local disputes and crimes such as theft.
To the present day, it would appear that variations and the differing social and policy aspects in Wales, merits a separate approach. For instance, the Welsh Government recently created 13 remote court facilities to enable domestic abuse survivors to give evidence safely, and have piloted a Drug and Alcohol Court. Furthermore, Wales’ Police and Crime Commissioners, claim that the way policing and criminal justice was delivered during the pandemic, calls for the devolution of justice in Wales.
However, while Yes Cymru Milford Haven supports calls for the devolution of justice in Wales, it disagrees with the Thomas Commission’s finding that it can be achieved through the current devolved settlement.
For instance, it is unlikely that the UK Government will agree to devolve justice to Wales and given the opposition to the radical proposals by Welsh Labour MPs in 2015, it is by no means certain that UK Labour will agree to do so either, should they win the next General Election.
We propose that justice in Wales will be best served to meet the interests of the people of Wales through independence of all our legal, financial and political institutions.
This is an article written by Maria Pritchard of Yes Milford Haven and published in the Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper on 24.06.2022