What price a frictionless border? I refer not to Stranraer, or some notional line in the sand on the Irish Sea floor – but rather Cardiff and the bridge over the Severn.
Counsel general for Wales Jeremy Miles told lawgazette.co.uk last week that progress toward the establishment of a distinct Welsh jurisdiction is now inexorable. As powers vested in the Welsh administration increase and laws diverge, it is now a matter of when and not if.
To a degree, of course, there is a discrete jurisdiction already, as conveyancers grappling with a new land transaction tax know very well. Yet it has long remained an open question how far that discretion will eventually extend. When I hosted a lawyers’ roundtable in Wales three years ago, this Englishman was surprised to detect a certain froideur when I raised the topic of divergence.
‘You may find that the big Cardiff firms wouldn’t be able to get work from England and abroad because the perception would be that the law is different,’ said one solicitor present. Another fretted: ‘It could be quite dangerous if we have legislation only for Wales and ignore English law. Can we get enough money out of the legal market in that situation to keep the big firms going?’
We are not there yet. Last time I looked, leading Wales firms were expanding fast and international clients demonstrating growing interest in Cardiff.
So what should be the limit of Wales’s ambitions? None of my business, in a sense. But devolution of policing and broad justice-related matters would seem to be a rational continuance of the present direction of travel.
Separate qualifications and separate professions on the Scottish model would surely be otiose, however. Keeping on top of your specialism as Welsh law evolves would seem to be a more sensible prescription for practice, whether you’re in Bristol or Barry. So it was a relief to hear Mr Miles confirm that common legal education, automatic dual qualification, and cross-ticketing of judges and tribunal members will all apply when – and if – the separate jurisdiction he envisages comes into being.