Separate legal jurisdiction could trigger ‘brain drain’ in Wales

Topics: Legal aid and access to justice,Government & politics

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Law firms in Wales could suffer a ‘brain drain’ to England if the country develops its own legal system, the Westminster government has warned amid heated debate on devolving new powers to Cardiff. 

A separate jurisdiction is not what lawyers in Wales want, Wales Office minister Alun Cairns has insisted.


Last October’s draft Wales Bill provides for a ‘reserved powers’ model in line with that of Scotland, which would enable Wales to make policy and law in all areas except those specifically reserved for Westminster. It prompted some supporters of further devolution to renew calls for full legal separation.

These backers include Justice for Wales, a legal pressure group. It claims that separation, including a different court system and separate professions, would create jobs, cut costs and improve access to justice.

Speaking at a conference on devolution, Cairns stressed that there is no ‘machiavellian plot’ to prevent the Welsh Assembly (pictured) being able to enforce its legislation. The government’s aim in the draft bill is rather ‘to ensure the principles that underline the legal jurisdiction in England and Wales are not modified any more than they need to be for that enforcement to be effective in Wales’.

Cairns said a single jurisdiction has served Wales well for centuries and that separation would be expensive and complex. He added: ‘It’s not what the legal profession in Wales wants. Be it from the law schools based in London, Cardiff or Llandudno, there could be a risk that legal talent would desert law firms in Wales for better opportunities in London, Manchester or Birmingham.’

Instead, said Cairns, current arrangements to ensure the justice system in Wales can react to changes in the law can be made ‘more robust’. He also dismissed the notion that it is ‘somehow an important assertion of [Welsh] identity to rebrand our courts’.

Cairns said the government will deliver the Wales Bill this year, as promised, but the process will be complicated further by Assembly elections in May.

The debate took another new turn yesterday when a scathing report by lawyers and academics from Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre and University College London described the  latest devolution proposals as ‘clunky and short-sighted’. The draft bill is so flawed assembly members should reject it altogether and demand the process is paused, the report said.

On jurisdiction, the report advocates consideration of two ‘middle ground’ options – the first involving territorial rules for applying Welsh law but within the single legal jurisdiction of England and Wales; and the second involving a distinct but not separate legal jurisdiction for Wales.

Readers' comments (12)

  • Well I'm staying...

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  • Are you billeted in Wales, David?

    Talk of a brain drain is clearly premature!

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  • Thanks, Anon 8.51. I am waiting for those who post something to the contrary, and not just one at that! And yes, I was born and brought up within half a mile of where I now live here in Llandudno. However, as some seem to have noticed, I had a short spell in Eastbourne.

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  • Give the welsh assembly a power and they will use it. Not because its better just because they can.
    There are already different rules in some areas. If you have clients with property in England and Wales then you have to keep track of different housing regs.
    Give them the power to raise tax and they will.
    They are already taxing the lifeblood of tourist economies. Note Pembrokeshires phoney consultation on increasing council tax on second homes. The money won't be spent in the local pubs, restaurants etc. People will move on. If the houses go to "local people" the tourist facilities will fade away and a major employer will fade with it.
    All because of a socialist agenda.
    Welcome to life in a one party state.
    With an election system of seats and regional seats which makes it almost impossible for labour to loose.
    You may have guessed I don't have a lot of time for them.
    For me chepstow isn't that far and becoming more attractive every day

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  • Anon 8.58, make sure you go far enough over the Wye else your plan could spectacularly backfire

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  • Agreed, Anon 8.58. Carwyn has a job for life. A p[g's bladder on the end of a stick... as they say.

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  • And carwyn is so self satisfied and complacent.
    I wonder if we will have a Scottish experience in may

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  • Of course they will use their powers and that will result in injustice. An example is electronic training collars for dogs which are illegal in Wales but perfectly legal across the Severn / Wye. People risk gaol in Wales. Are they aware? Of course not. Leave aside the merits /demerits of using these pieces of equipment: how can they be legal in Gloucester and illegal in Gwent? It makes no sense in the context of criminal law.

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  • This will be yet another expensive mistake, just like the demise of the Chester and North Wales circuit in favour of the all Wales one. Clients have to now pay for lawyers to go from (eg) Bangor to swansea (7 hour drive) as opposed to Chester (1 hour drive) for a chambers hearing. Madness.

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  • Everything the Welsh Government (Council) does or says is meant to make it different, not better, just different. The people are the losers while the gravy train rumbles on regardless as it generates more and more pet projects and "World changing" nanny state "laws".

    I voted for more powers but now bitterly regret the whole siop siafins.

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