Welsh justice review warns of legal aid ‘deserts’ and calls for devolution of justice functions

24th October 2019

Following a 2017 independent study commissioned by the Welsh government, the 555-page report published today on the justice system in Wales was highly critical of the current system of devolution and reductions in the justice budget made by the Westminster government.

The Commission are advocating for a system of devolution which would take an integrated approach to policy and justice spending in Wales, leading to a more sustainable and fair justice system. The alignment of justice policy and spending with existing health, education and economic development policies is seen by the Commission as integral to the long-term vision for justice in Wales.

Justice is not an island and should be truly integrated into policies for a just, fair and prosperous Wales.”

On access to justice:

The Commission found that the 2012 legal aid cuts had disproportionately affected the people of Wales, limiting proper access to justice and threatening the Rule of Law. The lack of access to justice has resulted in ‘advice deserts’ in rural and post-industrial areas with existing limitations, resulting in  increased numbers of people forced to represent themselves in court.

The Commission have recommended that legal aid funding be integrated with third sector advice to form a single fund under an independent body, though devolution is seen above all as the most efficient long term solution to issues relating to access to justice.

On the devolution of justice:

The Commission recommend that legislative power be devolved to Wales and any restrictions on the Assembly’s power to legislate on all forms of justice be removed, to correspond more closely with the position of the Northern Ireland assembly and the Scottish parliament.

In relation to devolution, the Commission also recommended that:

  • The Welsh Government have responsibility for executive functions for justice in Wales. In the opinion of the Commission, coherent policies will only be created by a Government which has both primary legislative and executive powers;
  • Devolution of justice should include the complete transfer of financial resources relating to Wales;
  • Legislation should provide for a High Court and Court of Appeal of Wales to be established by the Assembly; and
  • Wales should be in a similar position to Scotland and Northern Ireland when appointing judges to the Supreme Court.

The Commission is clear that the people of Wales both need and deserve a better system, whether the Westminster government will take heed of the Commission’s findings and strongly worded recommendations is yet to be seen.  The Commission’s proposals would involve devolving powers from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), who have already indicted that, whilst they will consider the report, their initial belief is that it would be too costly and lead to significant duplication. The First Minister is due to give an oral statement on the report after recess.

You can read the full report here. We will keep you updated on developments and for information and advice on the report contact Eve Piffaretti or Sarah Whittle.