A legal obligation on Welsh governments to draft legislation in a radically different way to England could be passed as early next year, the country’s chief legal adviser has told the Gazette. Jeremy Miles AM, counsel general for Wales, said the proposed Legislation (Wales) Bill would start the process of cleaning up a statute book which is ‘inaccessible and in a bit of a mess’.
A draft bill published last week would require governments from 2022 to create a formal body of Welsh law by organising legislation around subject matter. Wales would thus become the first part of the UK to have a codified statute book designed to make the law more accessible both to lawyers and laypeople.
The move follows calls from the Law Commission and senior judges to head off the increasing complexity of legislation created under the devolution settlement since 2006. This process is set to accelerate under the ‘reserved powers’ model introduced by the Wales Act 2014. This gives the national assembly competence in all areas not reserved for Westminster.
Miles, who practised as a solicitor in London and Cardiff before his election in 2016, said that Brexit would compound the problem because of the need to domesticate European legislation. ‘This would leave the statute book even more inaccessible unless further action is taken to rationalise the law.’
The Legislation Bill would impose a duty on governments to maintain programmes setting out how they intend to improve access to Welsh law. This would include publishing a codified corpus on the website law.gov.wales and facilitating the use of the Welsh language. One priority might be to clear up potential confusion caused by Welsh language text citing bodies such as the Awdurdod Meinweoedd Dynol (Human Tissue Authority) which in law exist only under their English names.
A consultation on the proposals runs until 12 June.
Miles described the need for a clearer statute book as a question of social justice. ‘As access to justice becomes more difficult, the obligation on government becomes greater to ensure the laws are accessible. That applies to all legislatures.’