Wales Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 14th December 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Humphreys Baroness Humphreys Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Wales) 5:15 pm, 14th December 2016

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Ely, to which I have added my name. Although the amendment does not perfectly achieve the objectives of those of us on these Benches, I welcome the opportunity it brings to debate this important issue and to allow me to place our objectives on record.

The amendment itself reflects the views of the Silk commission, which recommended that, along with the devolution of youth justice, prisons and policing to the Welsh Assembly, a review of the legislative devolution of other aspects of the justice system should be carried out over a period of 10 years. Sadly, this Bill has not gone far enough to meet any of these expectations, although we have of course seen some movement on the matter of justice today.

Let me make this point and make the opinion on these Benches clear. We have followed and taken part in the debate over whether there is a need for a separate or distinct legal jurisdiction for many years and feel strongly that, sooner or later, the current system will require substantial reform to cope with the growing distinctions between the bodies of law produced by the two Governments. However, we have been cautious over whether now is the time for Wales to have a fully separate system from England. At this stage in the devolution process, we call for a distinct legal jurisdiction for Wales, but while the English and Welsh jurisdictions are still similar, we would support sharing the judicial framework, so as not to wastefully duplicate resources. The consequential massive savings on costs, at a time when Wales would be finding its feet as a legal jurisdiction, would be valuable.

Alan Trench, who drafted a report on behalf of the Wales Governance Centre and the Constitution Unit called Delivering a Reserved Powers Model of Devolution for Wales, said:

“Establishing a Welsh jurisdiction would be a major political decision, and have cost implications if the courts were to be devolved as well”.

We share this view. Our concern is how this can or will be achieved. We cannot allow this Bill to pass to its final stages without setting up a mechanism for further discussions on this vital issue. We owe it to the Welsh Assembly and the people of Wales to begin to sketch out a road map for the future of justice in Wales—a future which will highlight the relevance of the body of Welsh law which exists now and the additional Welsh laws which the Assembly will undoubtedly pass in the future.

I welcome the contents of the Minister’s letter, which I received today, concerning the emerging findings of the Justice in Wales working group. I was particularly pleased to note its anticipated focus on a periodic review of the operation of the justice system under the framework of the Bill, and its likely recommendations on the need to be more effective in considering the distinctiveness of how justice is delivered in Wales.

I am grateful to the Minister for providing further details of the way in which these recommendations will be put into operation. I look forward to reading the details of this debate in Hansard and giving further thought to how the committee that he proposes will operate. I hope he will be able to provide us with further details about the operation of that committee.