Wales’ Own Criminal Justice System Mooted

WALES’ new Counsel General, Carwyn Jones, has launched a debate about the creation of a separate criminal justice system for Wales.

He believes that if the National Assembly is transformed into a parliament, laws in Wales will become increasingly different to those in England.

The prospect of a distinct legal system in Wales has already been welcomed by one of the region’s most senior barristers, Nicholas Cooke, leader of the Wales & Chester Circuit.

He said, “The closer it is to the community it serves the more I like it. It’s pretty well inconceivable there are going to be huge differences on what’s permissible [under] criminal law between England and Wales, but there are a lot of issues where there is room for difference.”

As political devolution continues he expects legal reforms to be gradually introduced, but he does not anticipate a sudden revolution in the way law operates in Wales.

“I would think evolution is better,” he said. “Stuff that grows up from the bottom has a habit of working better.”

Mr Jones – the Bridgend AM who was confirmed as Counsel General in a vote by the National Assembly on Tuesday – warned the Welsh legal establishment they could not “shy away” from the debate. He said, “In a situation where the Assembly is able to exercise primary legislative powers, I think it’s inevitable that the question will surface as to whether it is sustainable for the single jurisdiction of England and Wales to be retained.”

Senior Liberal Democrat and QC Lord Carlile said he backed reform providing it did not make it more difficult to arrest, interview and prosecute criminals.

He said, “There’s a strong argument for having High Court judges based entirely in Wales. I’m very much in favour of Wales having its own chief justice”

Mr Jones, speaking at a Law Society event in Cardiff, said, “The new powers we have already gained under the Government of Wales Act 2006 and the advent of Welsh laws, known as Measures, means that the potential exists for much greater divergence to develop between the law in relation to Wales and the law in relation to England.

“If the Welsh electorate, in a further referendum, allowed the Assembly to exercise primary legislative powers, then the scope for divergence would increase materially again.”

The One Wales pact which brought Labour and Plaid Cymru into coalition contains a pledge to campaign for full lawmaking powers before the next Assembly election in 2011.

Mr Jones said, “It’s a question which neither the Welsh Assembly Government nor the legal community in Wales can shy away from. The debate will have to take place.

“That’s one of the reasons why it’s vital that I, as a member of the Welsh Assembly Government, its chief legal adviser and as a member of the legal profession, need to have effective lines of mutual communication with the legal community in Wales.”

Earlier this month First Minister Rhodri Morgan hinted that should the Assembly get primary lawmaking powers, it would be appropriate for Wales to get its own separate legal jurisdiction.

“Separate administration is one thing and separate jurisdiction another,” he said.

“If you’ve got two parliaments that have primary powers, I think it makes it very difficult to have one jurisdiction.

“I’m not aware of anywhere in the world where you have that.”

But he added, “That’s not where we are now.

“Wales is now being administered as one administration.”