‘Inexorable’ was the adjective deployed by the counsel general for Wales in 2018. ‘Unanswerable’ was the preferred epithet of his successor this month.
Jeremy Miles and Mick Antoniw wanted – and want – to believe that wholesale devolution of justice and policing to Wales is merely a matter of time. And that cause received a major fillip two years ago this week, when the landmark Thomas Commission recommended that Cardiff wrest full control of both policy and funding from Westminster.
Unveiling his 558-page blueprint, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd argued in October 2019 that ‘justice should be determined and delivered in Wales so that it aligns with distinct and developing social policy and a growing body of Welsh law’. The way that responsibilities are split between Westminster and Cardiff ‘has created pointless complexity, confusion and incoherence in justice and policing in Wales’, declared the erstwhile LCJ.
Westminster, however, for all its platitudes, is clearly reluctant to engage. At this year’s Legal Wales conference, senior justice minister Lord Wolfson of Tredegar offered little but bromides in response to Antoniw’s exhortations.
London and Cardiff remain miles apart, indicated Wolfson – but are ‘aligned in a desire to improve the way justice is delivered in Wales’. A truism if ever there was one.
Of course, as powers vested in the Welsh administration increase and laws diverge, the perceived anomalies inherent in two legal systems will be writ larger. A clearly frustrated Antoniw can only pledge to press on with those Thomas recommendations which can be implemented within the present settlement.
It is difficult to see the Conservative administration at Westminster going much further. The union is under enough strain as it is, and devolving justice and policing to Wales would only bolster the separatist cause.
The pandemic is credited with raising the profile of the devolved administrations, and in politics too much public education can be a dangerous thing. As justice is wilfully starved of funds, why would Boris Johnson want to give Wales a chance to demonstrate that it could operate such a fundamental pillar of our democracy better than he?