A MAJOR report into the Welsh justice system calls for radical change.
The report, ‘Justice in Wales for the People of Wales’, says the administration of justice needs to be devolved so that justice in practice aligns with the growing body of Welsh law on social, health and education policy and other services.
Prepared by a Commission chaired by the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Report says: ‘Major reform is needed to the justice system and to the current scheme of devolution’.
The Commission found ‘under the current scheme of devolution there is no properly joined up or integrated approach, as justice remains controlled by the Westminster Government’. It says to ensure consistent treatment of the UK’s devolved administrations, Wales should have the same powers over its justice system as Scotland and England, particularly as Wales increasingly diverges from England in key areas of policy, for example on housing.
The reductions in the justice budget made by the Westminster Government since 2010 have been amongst the most severe of all departmental budget cuts.
The Commission is highly critical of the Westminster-centric nature of law-making, which largely ignores Wales’ interests and Wales’ challenges. It points out the Welsh Government has used its own money, in addition to permitting rises in council tax, to try and mitigate the damaging effects of these policies.
The result is almost 40% of the total funding for Wales’ justice system originates in Wales. This is above other tax revenue that is raised from Wales and then allocated by the Westminster Government to Wales.
The report’s authors unanimously conclude: “This position is unsustainable when the Welsh Government has so little say in justice policy and overall spending.”
Crucially, the report also says restrictions on the Senedd’s powers to legislate over policing, offender management, and rehabilitation should be removed. Such an arrangement would align the Senedd’s powers with those of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.
On two areas of policy, the Report is particularly critical of Wales’ treatment within the current justice system.
The significant cuts to legal aid made in 2012 have hit Wales hard. Proper access to justice is not available with the consequent threat to the Rule of Law.
The report says Westminster’s approach to legal aid has created:
• ‘advice deserts’ in rural and post-industrial areas where people struggle to receive legal advice;
• a serious risk to the sustainability of legal practice elsewhere, especially in traditional ‘high street’ legal services; and
• increasing numbers of people representing themselves in courts and tribunals with a consequential adverse impact on outcomes and the efficient use of court resources.
The report says although the Welsh Government spends its own funds on advice services it lacks the resources to bridge the gap caused by the cuts to legal aid.
Prosecution lawyers and prosecuting authorities are funded from the public purse. Individuals just over the legal aid limit are doubly penalised by the inability to access legal advice. If they do and are acquitted, individuals face the infamous ‘innocence tax’. Self-funding defendants in criminal prosecutions who are acquitted very seldom – if ever – recover the whole costs of their defence, leaving them often massively out of pocket.
On criminal law, the report finds, unlike in England, the number of police officers in Wales has not reduced. It explains this is because the Welsh Government provides further funds and allowed council tax rises to provide extra money to forces.
However, a significantly greater proportion of the spending on justice is now on prisons rather than crime reduction. Wales has one of the highest, if not the highest, prison populations per head in Western Europe, even though the evidence is that robust community sentences achieve better outcomes in many cases.
The lack of integration between health policy, over which Wales has powers, and policing, reserved to Westminster, means the current devolution scheme has created problems in terms of providing health services for prisoners, as well as other services such as housing which are necessary for rehabilitation on release.
The report calls for a single Minister to be given responsibility for justice in Wales and establishing problem-solving criminal courts and Family Drug and Alcohol Courts in Wales.
Predictably, the UK Government has dismissed the plans as creating over-complexity; brushed aside increasing legislative differences between English and Welsh law; and turned its back on equal treatment of Wales within the UK.
Questioned on Radio 4’s ‘Law in Action’ whether the plans would speed up the break-up of the United Kingdom, Lord Thomas gave a vigorous denial that would be the case.
He pointed out provisions within the document for a UK-wide Supreme Court with judges appointed to it from each jurisdiction. Saying the different treatment of Wales was ‘unsustainable’, he repeated the proposals within the report needed only changes to the existing devolution settlement to recognise Wales’ circumstances and to create a level playing field between the nations of the UK.
Living Wage Week highlighted during Kidwelly launch
Plaid Cymru Mid and West AM, Helen Mary Jones visited Burns Pet Food in Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire to launch Living Wage Week locally.
PPLAID CYMRU Mid and West AM, Helen Mary Jones visited Burns Pet Food in Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire to launch Living Wage Week locally.
The company is a champion of the Living Wage movement in Carmarthenshire, and the visit emphasised the importance of employers adopting the Living Wage for their workers.
Speaking at the launch Helen Mary Jones AM said:
“A big thank you to Burns Pet Food for hosting the Living Wage Celebration in west Wales. It’s very fitting that we are here today in the headquarters of this pioneering company that was established to provide a much-needed focus on nutrition, health and natural ingredients in animal food. Animal welfare is at the heart of everything for the firm. Their ethical emphasis also extends to the Burns workforce.
“The organisation is the first champion of the Living Wage Movement in Carmarthenshire; what a privilege and a responsibility that brings and one that John Burns and his staff have taken on board with energy and commitment.
“Everyone here at Burns is a passionate advocate for paying a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and we are delighted they hosted the event to help encourage and inspire as many employers in the region as possible to take up the mantle and follow their excellent example.
“Living Wage Week is about celebrating our Living Wage Employers – thanking them for making such a difference in people’s lives. It’s also about helping our friends and colleagues in other organisations who are also in favour of fair pay and want to learn as much as possible about what it means to become accredited Living Wage Employers.”
In addition to the advocation of the Living Wage implementation across Wales, Helen Mary Jones AM congratulated the 224 Living Wage accredited employers and celebrated the achievement in a statement of opinion in the Senedd. The statement has been signed by Labour and Plaid Cymru members.
Burns Pet Food in Kidwelly kicked started the celebrations of The Living Wage Week, which runs from 11th November to 17th November 2019.
Carmarthenshire residents urged to use their vote
RESIDENTS in Carmarthenshire are being encouraged to use their vote in the General Election being held on December 12, 2019.
Those who are yet to register to vote have until midnight on Tuesday, November 26, to sign up or lose the opportunity to have their say in the forthcoming election.
Acting Returning Officer for Carmarthenshire, Wendy Walters, is urging everyone to exercise their democratic right.
In particular, a call is being made to young people as Electoral Commission statistics show almost a third of 18-34 year olds are not registered to vote.
Those who have recently moved house are also being reminded to register to vote at their new address, with Electoral Commission data showing that only 36 per cent of those who have moved in the last year have re-registered with their new details.
“You can’t vote unless you’re registered to do so,” she said. “It’s vitally important that everyone has the opportunity to have their say in this General Election. It is quick and easy to register, and as always our electoral services team is on hand to help anyone in need.”
Information about the General Election, details about how to register, how to apply for a postal or proxy vote, a list of Carmarthenshire polling stations, and more, can be found online at www.carmarthenshire.gov.wales/generalelection2019
Further advise can be sought if needed from the Electoral Services Unit on 01267 228889.
Follow Carmarthenshire County Council on Facebook and Twitter for information updates in the run up to the election, and for results as they are announced.
Free advice drop-in on EU Settlement Scheme
FREE advice about the UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme is being made available to EU citizens in Carmarthenshire.
A mobile team from Newfields Law, who provide a specialist immigration advisory service, will be on hand at a drop-in event in Carmarthen Library on Monday November 11 from 2pm to 5pm.
The UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme means EU citizens and their families have to apply to secure their rights to continue living and working in the UK.
Free online applications have to be made by December 31, 2020, in the event a no-deal Brexit.
If a Brexit deal is agreed, the application deadline will be extended to June 30, 2021.
At the drop-in event in Carmarthen Library on St Peter’s Street, experts from Newfields Law will advise on eligibility for settled and pre-settled status, and documents needed to support applications.
Members of the team will also be available to discuss any post-application queries people may have, including questions raised by the Home Office.
Cllr Emlyn Dole, Carmarthenshire County Council Leader, said: “Statistics show there are about 7,000 EU nationals living or working in Carmarthenshire.
“As a council, we hugely value their contribution to the county – not just economically, but for their role in boosting Carmarthenshire’s cultural diversity.
“That’s why we’d encourage all EU nationals living and working here to apply to this UK Government scheme as soon as possible to ensure their rights are protected after the UK leaves the European Union.”
Carmarthenshire County Council will also soon be providing an assisted digital service at its customer service Hwbs in Carmarthen, Llanelli and Ammanford to help EU nationals with their applications, if needed.
This service will include equipment to scan biometric documents like passports and national ID cards.
Visit www.eusswales.com for more information about the EU Settlement Scheme and details on further advice and support.
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