Bill introduced to start codification of Welsh law

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Legislation Bill
Introduced by Counsel General, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath)
Bill (pdf)
Explanatory Memorandum (pdf)

This one’s only really going to be for the legal nerds and constitutional anoraks, but….

Why introduce a Legislation Bill?

It’s an understatement to say that laws are often complicated and for 99%+ of people, they’ll only worrying when they fall foul of them.

The UK doesn’t have a neat system of laws because, in part, we don’t have a written constitution. That means we rely on centuries of old laws which all have to be chopped and changed every single time the government wants to make a new law. On top of this are a number of EU laws which are being copy-and-pasted into UK law as a result of Brexit.

A unique issue to Wales is the absence of an Interpretation Act for the Welsh language, meaning if you want to understand the effect of a law, even if it’s bilingual, you often have to refer to the English version. The lack of a Welsh legal jurisdiction is also an anomaly.

The Welsh Government have already taken some steps to improve accessibility to Welsh law by setting up the Law Wales website, but the Legislation Bill builds on the recommendations of a Law Commission review.

The Lowdown: The Key Proposals in the Bill

1. The Welsh Government must commit to making Welsh law more accessible

Once a term, the Counsel General will have to outline how they intend to make Welsh law more accessible, including an ongoing process of consolidation and codification.

How that might work is outlined in more detail here (pdf), but essentially it means drawing together all Welsh laws and regulations governing devolved policy areas into a single “code” – it’s hinted this would be done via a series of Consolidation Bills. So there would be one code for education, one code for the fire service, one code for agriculture etc.

2. A bilingual Interpretation Act

This will ensure the language and definitions within all devolved Welsh laws and regulations are consistent in both Welsh and English.

For example, one of the clauses means any reference to gender (“he” or “she”) – i.e.  in a domestic violence law – will apply equally to both genders unless specifically stated otherwise.

How much will the Legislation Bill cost?

It’s expected to cost up to £3million spread across five years, starting with the next Senedd term in 2021 – all falling on the Welsh Government.

There’ll be savings in time and money by making Welsh law more accessible, both for the Welsh Government’s legal teams, the legal profession in general and the public – though the explanatory memorandum says these benefits would be hard to quantify.

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