Cabinet committee established to take forward Thomas Commission recommendations

(Title Image: University of South Wales Legal Clinic)

Yesterday, AMs were able to offer their initial thoughts on the Thomas Commission report on justice in Wales, which was published just before the half-term recess and is summarised here.

The key conclusion was that the criminal justice system should be devolved – though there’s a bit more to it than that.

A landmark report

The First Minister described it as a “landmark report”, and there was one finding which was striking from the outset:

He added that previously the argument has been constitutional – that a nation that makes laws ought to be able to police them. However, the Thomas Commission has outlines fundamental practical issues caused by a division of responsibilities between the UK and Wales.

One issue highlighted in the report has already been addressed with an announcement of a £4million investment in a legal innovation laboratory at Swansea University.

In light of the report’s recommendations, a cabinet-level justice committee has been established to take the recommendations of the report forward and lead discussions with the UK Government after the general election.

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) cited The Secret Barrister, which looked at deficiencies in the EnglandandWales legal system. There was now an opportunity for Wales to address those weaknesses and develop a criminal justice system that was sensitive to Welsh needs specifically. He also questioned Labour’s support for this given Labour MPs’ historic objections to devolving any part of the criminal justice system.

“The part I would like to refer to… (the recommendation) that funding for legal aid….should be brought together in Wales in a single fund….the fact that enormous amounts of Welsh money goes into various aspects in making up these shortfalls in the justice system….whether it be through Citizens Advice, whether it be through Women’s Aid, whether it be through the various third sector bodies.”
– Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd)

Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) raised the human consequences of poor justice policy, such as recent-revealed figures of homelessness amongst former Cardiff prisoners. The report as a whole was a rebuke to people who’ve washed their hands with the issue for decades.

John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) echoed this saying many people were being failed on a moral and practical level, leading to more victims of crime in Wales and a proportionally higher prison population than would otherwise be the case.

Cross-border concerns

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM (Con, Preseli Pembs.), said that while the report made some admirable arguments in favour of devolution of criminal justice, his party remain – at this point – unconvinced.

“Wales’s geography means that devolving criminal justice isn’t entirely straightforward, and there are some understandable concerns regarding the impact that devolving criminal justice could have on the Wales-England border. Calls for the devolution of criminal justice to Wales fail to recognise that criminal activity does not recognise national or regional boundaries and that around 48% of the public live within 25 miles of the border and 90% of people live within 50 miles of the border. This, of course, contrasts sharply with the fact that only 5% of the combined population of Scotland lives within 50 miles of the border.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies AM

Similar arguments were made by Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales) – who cited cross-border police co-operation in north Wales – as well as Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) who said that the issues raised in the Thomas Commission report applied to large parts of England too.

Mark Reckless also raised a technical point that appointing a Welsh member to the Supreme Court (a recommendation in the report) could require a Welsh judicial appointments system due to how Supreme Court judges are appointed.

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