A public debate begins today on whether Wales should be a separate legal jurisdiction.

The Welsh government will ask the judiciary, lawyers and members of the public whether they want a jurisdiction along the lines of those found in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The consultation has been in the pipeline since March last year, when a referendum produced a 'yes’ vote to giving the National Assembly for Wales law-making powers in 20 devolved policy areas.

This has led to increasing divergence between Welsh law and the law in England, prompting the discussion of separate jurisdictions.

First minister Carwyn Jones said: 'The devolution of further powers to the Welsh government and National Assembly will inevitably mean more distinct Welsh law applying in Wales in the future, which means the law that applies in Wales and the law that applies in England will become increasingly divergent.

'We now feel it essential that we have a public debate on whether or not Wales should be a separate legal jurisdiction, and the implications this could have for Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom.’

Wales’ counsel general Theodore Huckle will deliver a statement to the National Assembly this afternoon.

He will make it clear that separate legal jurisdictions can exist within a UK without compromising the union.

The consultation is likely to take 12 weeks, with a decision expected by the end of this year. It is thought that a separation of legal powers would require legislation to be passed in Westminster.