The growing body of Welsh law has created the need for 'distinct arrangements to recognise Wales' needs', the government said today, announcing the establishment of a working group to examine the issue.

However there is 'not a case at present' for creating a separate jurisdiction from that of England. 

Stephen Crabb, secretary of state for Wales, made the announcements as part of changes to the Wales Bill designed to 'remove constitutional red tape and deliver a stronger devolution settlement'.

The changes follow four months of pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill, which will introduce a Scottish-style 'reserved powers' model of devolution. One major change following the scrutiny is to remove a so-called 'necessity test' for new Welsh legislation.

Crabb said that the government has rejected calls for a separate jurisdiction, as Welsh law currently makes up 'a tiny fraction of the overall body of law for England and Wales'.

However, he announced that he would establish a working group with the Ministry of Justice, the lord chief justice’s office, and the Welsh Government, 'to consider what distinct arrangements are required to recognise Wales’s needs within the England and Wales jurisdiction' when the reserved powers model is implemented. 

Today's announcement was welcomed by solicitors in Wales close to the debate. Geldards partner and vice-chairman Huw Williams, who gave evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee on the draft Wales Bill, said: 'The delay in introducing the Bill is sensible, as it will now allow time to conduct a more searching analysis of the justification for the powers to be reserved to Westminster (a point which I made in my evidence) and a proper examination of the exact  nature and extent of the pre-devolution powers still retained by UK ministers and their justification. This work can only help to contribute to the aim of achieving a lasting settlement.

'The working party on the delivery of justice in Wales is also to be welcomed, as is the commitment to continuing a single jurisdiction. In this respect the secretary of state seems to have listened to the concerns felt by many firms in Wales at the business risks of a move to a separate Welsh jurisdiction.'

Law Society Council member David Dixon, senior lecturer in the Centre for Professional Legal Studies at Cardiff Law School, commented: 'The secretary of state has clearly taken account of the responses he received concerning the draft Wales Bill.  It is excellent news that the so-called necessity test will be removed and that officials will be seeking to remove some items on the list of reservations to simplify and clarify the settlement.' 

He added: 'The establishment of a working group to consider what arrangements are needed to recognise the needs of Wales within the jurisdiction of England and Wales when the new reserved powers model of devolution is operating is sensible.  This looks like the basis of a much better and more stable devolution settlement.'

Meanwhile, Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: 'We have been part of the process of scrutiny of the draft bill  and look forward to contributing to the working group which will consider what  arrangements are required to recognise Wales’ distinct needs in the single  jurisdiction of England and Wales.'

 

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