Gillan questions need for Welsh legal jurisdiction debate

A debate on a Welsh jurisdiction is essential, says the first minister

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Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan has poured scorn on a consultation into creating a Welsh legal jurisdiction.

The Welsh government says it wants a public debate on the idea, which could mean creating a separate court system from England.

Officials say the Welsh government has not made up its mind on whether a separate jurisdiction is needed or what it would look like.

But Mrs Gillan said the current system had served Wales well for centuries.

The Ministry of Justice declined to comment while the consultation was under way, but Mrs Gillan said she had discussed the matter with Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, as well as with UK government lawyers and senior judges.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own jurisdictions but England and Wales share one.

Even if laws passed by the assembly only apply to Wales, they are still part of the law of England and Wales.

A separate jurisdiction could mean creating a Welsh judiciary and courts system.

Law of the land

  • The medieval laws of Wales are known as the laws of Hywel Dda, named after the 10th Century king under whose reign they were codified.
  • Some differences between the laws of England and Wales remained after 1284 when the Statute of Rhuddlan introduced English common law.
  • The England and Wales jurisdiction was created under Henry VIII by the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542, also known as the Acts of Union
  • The second act established the Court of Great Sessions which lasted until 1830 when it was abolished and Wales and Chester were merged into the circuit system
  • The assizes were replaced by the crown courts by the Courts Act 1971.

It could also mean cases relating to laws passed by the assembly can only be heard in Welsh courts.

The Welsh government says there has been an increasing divergence between the law in England and Wales since devolution in 1999.

It said that following last year's referendum in favour of direct law-making powers for the assembly "there has been much discussion about whether or not Wales should also be a separate legal jurisdiction".

Launching a 12-week consultation, First Minister Carwyn Jones said: "Wales is an old country, but a young democracy.

'Surprising priority'

"As first minister, my overriding priority is to make devolution work so that we deliver our commitments to the people of Wales. The development of a legal system fit for a healthy and prosperous Wales is vital."

Devolving more powers to Cardiff will mean more distinct laws that only apply to Wales, he said.

"We now feel it essential that we have a public debate on whether or not Wales should be a separate legal jurisdiction, and the implications this could have for Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom."

But Mrs Gillan said: "This is a surprising priority from the Welsh government and I am not clear on the problem that needs to be addressed.

"How would such a change benefit people or business in Wales?

"The current system for England and Wales has served Wales well for centuries. There is no reason to make changes simply for change's sake.

"As this is an agenda that the first minister is determined to pursue, I have already discussed the matter in detail with the justice secretary, UK government law officers and senior members of the judiciary."

Counsel General Theodore Huckle QC, the Welsh government's top law officer, said: "We are clear that separate jurisdictions can exist within a United Kingdom - Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own jurisdictions separate from that of England and Wales.

"In this context, the time is now right to consider whether or not there should be a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales."

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