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Understanding devolution in Wales
Understanding devolution in Wales

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2.1 Thomas Commission

The Commission on Justice in Wales – chaired by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd – was established by First Minister Carwyn Jones in September 2017 to:

deal with the unfinished business from the Silk Commission, which made a number of carefully reasoned, evidence-based recommendations, in respect of justice - covering the courts, probation, prisons and youth justice. It will also address crucial issues relating to the legal jurisdiction and the challenges facing the legal services sector in Wales.

(Welsh Government, 2017)

Commenting, Mr Jones said:

In Wales, we have had a separate legislature for 6 years but, as yet, we do not have our own jurisdiction. By establishing the Commission on Justice in Wales, we are taking an important first step towards developing a distinctive justice system which is truly representative of Welsh needs.

(Welsh Government, 2017)

The Commission followed the well-rehearsed pattern of gathering and considering evidence before making 78 recommendations in a 556 page long report two years later. The report’s unambiguous conclusion was that ‘the people of Wales are being let down by their legal system’ and there should be legislative devolution of justice to the Assembly including devolution of youth justice, policing and crime reduction policy.

It also recommended:

  • to accompany legislative devolution, there should be executive devolution of functions relating to justice in Wales to the Welsh Government
  • devolution of justice should also be accompanied by a full transfer of financial resources
  • the law applicable in Wales should be formally identified as the law of Wales, distinct from the law of England
  • the Assembly should take a more proactive role in the scrutiny of the operation of the justice system.
(The Commission on Justice in Wales, 2019)

In the interim, Mark Drakeford had taken over as First Minister. He set out the main findings of the report to AMs in a statement on 5 November 2019 and committed to making progress where the Welsh Government had the powers to do so, such as developing training and legal education. He also created a Cabinet committee on justice to drive progress forward.

The UK Government did not agree with the Commission’s conclusion that justice should be wholly devolved and a Welsh jurisdiction created. Chris Philp MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, said during a Westminster Hall debate on devolving justice to Wales in January 2020 that the UK Government has no intention to ‘produce a full and formal response’ because the report was commissioned by the Welsh Government, not by them.

Philp said the UK Government does not agree with the Commission’s conclusion that justice should be wholly devolved and a Welsh jurisdiction created. In doing so, he set out the reasons for coming to this conclusion, including that the cost could not be justified. However, he also said that the UK Government ‘will work closely with the Welsh Government to ensure justice policies are aligned and to take into consideration distinct Wales needs’.

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Video 2 The UK Government response
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