A wholly separate Welsh legal jurisdiction could be detrimental to lawyers in Wales and for the nation’s prosperity.
That was the message from the Law Society this week as it made its submission to the Commission on Justice in Wales.
The commission was set up by former First Minister Carwyn Jones to consider what arrangements are needed to ensure the country has a justice system to suit the new devolution settlement enshrined in the Wales Act 2017. In its response, the Law Society stressed that it attaches great importance to understanding and taking account of the distinctive needs of consumers, citizens and the legal profession in Wales.
But the solicitors’ representative body said the creation of a separate Welsh jurisdiction would mean Wales misses out on wider benefits and ‘could be perceived as a difficult place to do business’. The response adds: ‘Complete “separation” of Wales from the current single jurisdiction could dilute the jurisdiction of England and Wales, and curtail the ability of solicitors to maintain the current level of legal services activity in Wales.’
The Society stressed its opposition to the creation of a different regulatory system for Wales, which would create extra cost for solicitors who wish to practise in both England and Wales.
‘A single regulator will facilitate cross-border practice and movement of solicitors between Wales and England,’ it added. ‘There will be optimal benefits from keeping the border open: Wales can attract solicitors from a wider pool; solicitors will be able to move between Wales and England to gain experience and advance their own careers; and solicitors’ firms and businesses based in Wales will be able to continue to provide services across England and Wales.’
The Society recommends that the Welsh Government be proactive in developing a way to accommodate Welsh law and the specific needs of Wales, without creating extra barriers or restricting lawyers’ ability to work cross-border.
There are 450 law firms registered in Wales, including international firms such as Eversheds Sutherland. More than 4,000 students are currently studying law at Welsh universities. Wales is gradually developing its own discrete body of law, for example through the introduction of its own land transaction tax. Writing in the Gazette last October, counsel general for Wales Jeremy Miles said it was now a matter of ‘when and not if’ Wales has a distinctly Welsh jurisdiction.
The commission is collating views on criminal and civil justice, the legal professions and economy, and the legal jurisdiction. It issued a call for evidence in February and is scheduled to report back later this year.