Legislation Bill “only the first step” towards making Welsh law easier to understand

(Title Image: National Assembly of Wales)

Constitutional & Legislative Affairs Committee
Stage 1 Report: Legislation Bill (pdf)
Published: 26th March 2019

The Legislation Bill is one of the more technical laws introduced this term. The core aim is to start a codification process of Welsh law in order to make it easier to understand and more accessible – there’s a full summary here.

1. The Senedd should agree to the general principles of the Bill

The way the UK Constitution works means laws pile up on one another making the whole thing “vast and unmanageable”. The Bill aims to avoid a similar situation developing with Welsh law by, effectively, consolidating all existing laws and regulations into a single “code” via a series of future Consolidation Bills (so, for example, there could be one big consolidated Bill covering Welsh environmental law which can be chopped and changed as necessary).

Legal experts who gave evidence to the Committee agree that the aims of the Bill were laudable. The Law Commission even described the Bill as “very clever” and “an exercise in best practice” believing it was better to introduce it now while Welsh laws were relatively small in number and to take the legislative impact of Brexit into account.

2. More clarity was needed on the non-legislative measures the Welsh Government intends to use to maximise the effectiveness of the Bill

The Bill comes with a long list of regulation-making powers for the Welsh Ministers, but for the Bill to properly work it’ll require a number of measures not related to legislation at all.

Some suggested measures include the digitisation of Welsh legislation, providing “easy read” explanatory memorandums alongside Bills (which the Welsh Government have done in the past), improved legal education and addressing a lack of academic and legal practice commentary on Welsh law (such as textbooks and legal glossaries).

The Counsel General, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath), told the Committee he was aware of the issues, but citing textbooks as an example he said the market for such material was likely to be very small. He believes the Law Wales website was likely to be the best way forward.

Nonetheless, the Committee demanded further detail from the Counsel General on non-legislative measures – including discussions with legal commentators, the development of Welsh language legal drafting expertise and how to educate the public on their rights and obligations under Welsh law.

3. “Accessibility to Welsh law” needs to be properly explained

There were differing views on what “accessible law” actually means. The Bill’s explanatory memorandum mentions “clear and certain in its effect….easily available and navigable”.

While a number of witnesses believed leaving a definition of “accessible law” off the face of the Bill was a strength – because it wouldn’t result in a narrow definition – Aberystwyth University’s Dr Catrin Fflûr Huws supported a definition of “accessibility” and whether that referred to the clarity of language in legislation or physical access to legislation (i.e. freely available on a website).

The Committee recommended the Counsel General provide a clear statement on what’s meant by “accessibility” in the Stage 1 debate – due to take place next week. They also recommended placing a clear duty on the Welsh Government to prepare a formal programme for accessibility and on the Counsel General to report annually on progress – as opposed to once every five-year term as stipulated in the Bill.

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