A major programme to codify and publish a distinct body of Welsh law has been announced by the Wales government.
Counsel general for Wales Mick Antoniw said the move will ’bring order’ to the laws that a devolved Wales inherited and enable the country to take a different approach to making new laws.
The concept of a Wales-only body of law has been debated during the troubled progress at Westminster of the Wales Bill, which aims to confer a reserved powers model of devolution on Wales. It must be distinguished from the altogether more radical notion of an entirely separate jurisdiction, which some politicians and lawyers in Wales still favour (see Gazette news focus, ’A bridge too far?’, 5 December).
In October, a Lords select committee report on the bill urged the fused jurisdiction of England and Wales to recognise the ‘reality of a growing body of distinct Welsh law’. One recent example of divergence was a replacement for stamp duty land tax, hailed as the first Welsh tax in 800 years.
The lack of a codified body of Wales law is a worsening headache for lawyers on both sides of the border, who can struggle to establish what or where the relevant law is. Antoniw said the consolidation programme, which will involve laws in areas such as education, tax, local government, planning and housing, would result in a Welsh legal code that is easier to find and understand.
Once codified all law - from Welsh Assembly acts to guidance - will be published together in both English and in Welsh on the Cyfraith Cymru/Law Wales website. At present the website, hosted in collaboration with WestLaw UK, is a ‘work in progress’ providing an overview of Welsh law and some detailed commentary.
Antoniw (pictured) said: ‘We can lead the way in the United Kingdom by starting on a path of consolidation and codification of our law. The new programme will enable us to bring most of the law on devolved subjects together in one place – something that has never been done before in the UK.
’This will help ensure our laws are accessible – so that we know what the law is and where the law is. It will also ensure the laws of Wales are fully bilingual, helping to further develop the Welsh language as a language of the law. It would in future make the work in developing new laws, and in scrutinising them, considerably more straightforward and efficient.’
He added: ‘Undertaking this work will bring worthwhile gains, given the social benefits it would bring to the people of Wales, in terms of the efficiency gains it would produce for the public and third sectors, the financial benefits it could bring to our economy and the clarity it would help bring to our highly complex constitution.’
Antoniw, a former practising solicitor with trade union firm Thompsons, said the programme will begin during this Assembly term, before the adoption of a formal Consolidation and Codification Programme from the 6th Assembly onwards.