Despite Wales having its own parliament, with the ability to pass and implement laws in Wales, justice and policing remains largely under the control of the UK Government.

While powers over justice and policing in Northern Ireland and Scotland lie in Belfast and Edinburgh, in Wales they remain controlled by the UK Government in Westminster.

When the Senedd has voted to make it illegal to travel outside of your own county, or forced pubs to stop selling alcohol, it is police officers in Wales who are accountable to the UK Home Office who enforce the laws.

When women in Wales are given prison sentences, they are sent to prisons in England, far away from the communities they will then be asked to reintegrate and rehabilitate within.

How did we get here?

When the Welsh Assembly was established in 1999, it was never intended to be a legislative body, so a separate jurisdiction, or justice system, in Wales was never considered.

Through acts that transferred power from Westminster to Cardiff Bay in 2006, 2014 and 2017, the Welsh Assembly has become the Senedd, with its own law making and tax raising powers.

The Senedd now makes primary legislation in areas such as health, transport and education, yet, unlike elsewhere in the UK, the control of policing, prisons and courts are still largely dictated from Westminster.

It is why, when policing figures are released by organisations like the Office of National Statistics, crime statistics refer to ‘England and Wales’.

What does justice cost and how is it funded?

The National Wales:

Nearly £1.2 billion was spent on justice in Wales in 2017 to 2018, the equivalent of £370 per person.

Funding for most bodies and agencies responsible for the delivery of justice mainly comes from the UK Government’s Ministry of Justice budget, while the UK Home Office budget provides funding for Welsh police forces.

Despite justice not being devolved, the Welsh Government does have responsibility of funding some areas of the justice system, for example, part funding the police.

Wales’ four police forces (North Wales, Dyfed Powys, Gwent and South Wales) each make up the difference in funding between the UK Government’s block grant and the budget they feel they need to police their area effectively.

The different is paid for through the local precept, funded through council tax. For example, Gwent Police, makes up around 50% of its policing budget, through the precept and Welsh Government funding.


The National Wales: Source: Welsh police forcesSource: Welsh police forces

Since 2009-10, the UK Government’s day-to-day spending on public services has decreased significantly in real terms, with the UK Justice Department’s spending falling by around 40% and the Home Office’s by around 25%.

In order to maintain services at pre-2010 levels, the Welsh Government needs to make up that funding gap, however its own budget was 5% lower in real terms in 2019 than in 2010.  

Thomas Commission: Calls to devolve grow louder

Debate over the devolution of justice powers to Wales has been ongoing for several years. A review of the Welsh justice system was published in October 2019 by the Commission on Justice in Wales, chaired by the former lord chief justice of England and Wales Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.

The report’s key recommendations were that control of policing and justice in Wales should be devolved to the Senedd, creating a new Welsh jurisdiction.

The commission argued that the division of powers between Westminster and Cardiff made it difficult to join up the justice system with health and education, making cooperation and collaboration difficult, and leading to a lack of accountability.

The recommendations and arguments within the report argue that policing and criminal policy on issues like drug abuse and mental health related issues, should be determined in Wales so that it is aligned and integrated with Welsh health, education and social policy.

Following the Thomas Commission – why hasn’t it happened?

In short, there appears to be no appetite from the UK Government to devolve justice.

Robert Buckland, the Lord Chancellor, said in October that a united Wales and England was “best for the law”.

Supporters of devolving justice have acknowledged that there will be a financial cost to devolving justice.

They also acknowledge the work that would need to be done to ensure legal professionals can work seamlessly between Wales and England.

However, they argue the benefits of being able to take full authority of the systems greatly outweigh the additional costs.

Despite a lack of will from its UK counterpart, the Welsh Government is implementing some of the reforms that fall within their current powers.

This includes creating a Law Council of Wales and giving oversight of justice matters to a Welsh select committee, as well as calling on UK ministers to implement the main recommendations of the commission.

What next and why does it matter?

The National Wales: The UK Government's controversial Crime and Policing bill ignited further calls for devolution from Liz Saville RobertsThe UK Government's controversial Crime and Policing bill ignited further calls for devolution from Liz Saville Roberts

Both Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru broadly support the Thomas Commission's findings. It is fair to say there is a will within Wales for justice to be devolved.

All four of Wales’ Police and Crime Commissioners also support devolving justice.

The debate was highlighted once again during the week when Plaid Cymru’s Liz Saville Roberts, the party’s spokesperson for justice and home affairs in Westminster, highlighted the issue during a debate on the UK Government’s controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

Ms Saville Roberts said: “New measures are announced in this Bill that risk only further complicating the unsustainable mess of the ‘jagged edge’ of Welsh justice policy.

“How will they be delivered in Wales, where powers over health are devolved? And crucially, what additional funding will we receive to deliver them?

“Given this Government’s blind-spot to devolution, I fear that yet again, these policies have been designed by England, for England.”

Ultimately, the decision to devolve justice to Wales is one that will have to be taken in Westminster. Appetite for such a decision remains as supressed as ever.

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