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Introduction to law in Wales
Introduction to law in Wales

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1 Overview of legal regulation in Wales

Like Scotland and England, Wales has a rich and varied legal history. This section briefly considers that history.

The system followed in Wales until the sixteenth century was based on a legal system codified by Hywel Dda, King of Deheubarth (a kingdom that covered most of modern-day Wales) in the mid-tenth century.

The laws he codified are often referred to as Cyfraith Hywel Dda. The word ‘Dda’ translates into English as ‘good’, and is thought to refer to the wisdom, and the just and compassionate nature of his laws. No copies of the original codified laws exist; the earliest copies of Welsh laws date from the twelfth century (the manuscripts are in Latin and Welsh). Because no records exist prior to this it is not clear how the laws were originally codified. It is thought that a convention was held by Hywel Dda in Whitland. His cantrefs were invited to the convention; they studied the existing law and then codified it, keeping laws that were seen as being of value and setting aside old, inappropriate laws, writing new laws to replace them.

About 40 law books exist from before 1536 (many dating from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries), and historians believe that they have the Cyfraith Hywel Dda at their core. Many of the books that have survived are well used, it is thought by lawyers, rather than having been kept in a library. One of the books, Peniarth 28, is an illustrated manuscript depicting the king and his court, everyday life and animals and is a rare example of an illustrated medieval Welsh manuscript.