The Welsh Government expects discussions with the UK Government about the future of justice in Wales to begin shortly, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution Mick Antoniw MS has said.
In a written statement Antoniw said the Welsh Government intended that these discussions should cover the range of topics in the Commission on Justice in Wales’s (Thomas Commission’s) report, Justice in Wales for the People of Wales, which was issued in October 2019.
These topics include:
- The need for disaggregated justice data for Wales
- Ensuring people can access court services as they are digitised
- Exploring the possibility of problem-solving courts in Wales
- Support for advice service providers
- Diversity in justice system agencies
- The quality and location of court buildings
- Welsh language provision in the justice system, and
- The organisation of the senior judiciary including representation on the UK Supreme Court.
The UK Government has previously rejected the Thomas Commission’s recommendation of a separate jurisdiction for Wales.
Antoniw said the Welsh Government was meanwhile progressing its own programme of work on Thomas Commission recommendations within the gift of the Welsh Government and other Welsh actors.
“A key area is family justice. The Thomas Commission shared our concerns about the numbers of children in Wales taken into care, and considered the important role partners in the justice system have in caring for children in Wales. We are working collaboratively with justice partners in Wales to take forward recommendations of the Family Division’s Public Law Working Group designed to keep families together, and expecting the launch this autumn of the first Family Drug and Alcohol Court in Wales through a pilot in Cardiff.”
He added that the North Wales Local Family Justice Board is one of two pathfinder areas in England and Wales taking part in a pilot programme to test and evaluate a revised Child Arrangements Programme on behalf of the Family Division’s Private Law Working Group. “The aim is to promote non-adversarial and problem-solving approaches to cases and reduce backlogs through better case management,” the Counsel General said.
Antoniw continued: “It is essential we have a vibrant legal sector in Wales to ensure all people, businesses and communities have easy access to the advice they need when they need it, and to support our vision for a better justice system for the people of Wales.”
The Counsel General said the Welsh Government was working with the legal sector on a package of measures to support its long-term development through business and digital support, cyber security and procurement of legal services, tailored to the particular needs of commercial law firms, high street practices and the bar.
He also reported that the Welsh Government had “consistently encountered enthusiasm” to participate in the planned Law Council of Wales. “Accordingly, I have now invited the proposed members of its Executive Committee to an initial meeting in November, which we expect will be the precursor to the formal instigation of a Law Council shortly after. While it will be for the Law Council itself to determine its precise remit, based on discussions with the sector we anticipate it will extend beyond legal education and Welsh law to cover economic development of the sector and legal technology and innovation.”
In his statement the Counsel General suggested that the Welsh tribunals had adapted well to the unprecedented disruption to their normal working practices from the pandemic. “Their continuing operation, ensuring users have been able to continue accessing justice, is testimony to how effectively the judiciary and administrators of the tribunals, led by the President of Welsh Tribunals Sir Wyn Williams, have responded to truly exceptional circumstances.”
He added that he anticipated receiving this autumn the Law Commission’s final report on its review of the law governing the operation of Wales’ devolved tribunals. This is expected to recommend reforms to bolster their independence and effectiveness.
“This important project is identifying the structural reforms we can make for a modern tribunal system for Wales as another important step towards building a devolved justice infrastructure for Wales,” Antoniw said, adding that the report would “pave the way for a Bill that will give effect to specific Welsh policy in this important area”.