The case for a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales is ‘considerably weakened’ without devolved responsibility for policing and justice, the nation’s most senior lawyer said tonight.
Theo Huckle, counsel general for Wales, said respondents to this year’s Welsh assembly government consultation on a separate jurisdiction had noted the increasing divergence of Welsh law from that applying in England.
However he said that wholesale change of the kind needed before a separate jurisdiction could become reality would represent the biggest single addition in responsibility since devolution began in 1999.
Speaking to the Society of Legal Scholars at Cardiff Law School, Huckle (pictured) said: ‘One of the most prominent themes in the responses to the consultation was the belief that a separate legal jurisdiction in Wales without a distinct court system would be like, to quote one respondent: "a cart without a horse".’ But in the midst of budget cuts and reductions in the civil service, he questioned whether Wales had the resources to uphold or enhance the current quality of service.
Huckle said: ‘If, for whatever reason, the Welsh government cannot at present move forward with proposals for taking on policing and justice responsibilities, the case for a separate legal jurisdiction may be considerably weakened. ‘It would be of limited or even dubious worth pursuing a separate legal jurisdiction "in principle" if Welsh ministers and the assembly did not also obtain a reasonably full set of powers in relation to justice.’
He added that the current joint jurisdiction may gradually come to be seen as ‘untenable’ over time. This strengthened the need for a separate Welsh jurisdiction ‘sooner rather than later’ to avoid a reactive and passive response.
The consultation process began in March following the devolution of law-making powers to Wales in 2011. The Welsh assembly government will respond early next year to the Silk Commission’s call for evidence with conclusions on the case for a separate jurisdiction.
Huckle also used his speech to criticise the lack of a Welsh judge in the UK Supreme Court. The barrister said it was ‘unacceptable’ that the Supreme Court case on the Local Government Bill was heard without a Welsh presence. ‘Wales is the only part of the UK, with its own legislature, not formally represented in membership of the Supreme Court. That position should not be allowed to continue, regardless of whether we move to a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales.’