Criminal justice failings “must be addressed” as AMs back Thomas Commission report

(Title Image: University of South Wales Legal Clinic)

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Welcomes the report of the Commission on Justice in Wales and thanks the members and staff of the Commission for their work.
  • Recognises the dedication and commitment to public service shown by the people and organisations who work within the justice system, but notes with dismay the central finding of the Commission that the people of Wales are let down by the justice system.
  • Supports the Welsh Government’s intention of both taking forward those recommendations within its current competence and working with other bodies to take forward recommendations within their responsibility.
  • Notes the Commission’s key finding that in order to make a lasting difference to the delivery of justice in Wales, policy must be determined and overseen in Wales and supports the devolution of justice and policing, and full funding for each as a way of aligning the justice system with the wider policy objectives for Wales agreed by the Senedd.

Significant failings need to be addressed

The First Minister told AMs that while there were examples of good practice within the criminal justice system, there were several failings that had to be addressed. “Advice deserts” have appeared in Wales due to legal aid cuts and the Welsh Government has had to fill the gap to the tune of £8million despite justice being non-devolved.

The other main failings include Wales’ proportionally higher imprisonment rate and the lack of facilities for women prisoners.

The Welsh Government is already taking forward recommendations within their remit – including looking at apprenticeship provision for young offenders and establishing a law council – however, up to two-thirds of the recommendations require co-operation from the UK Government.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) believes devolution of criminal justice was an opportunity to built a new, much fairer, system. Meanwhile, former solicitor, John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East), said the way the current system operates “brutalises people” and “ruins their life chances” when imprisoned unnecessarily.

Chair of the newly re-christened Constitutional Affairs & Justice Committee, Mick Antoniw AM (Lab, Pontypridd), said his committee will hold an inquiry into how the Welsh system of tribunals works and how Welsh public policy fits with the EnglandandWales legal jurisdiction.

While making it clear devolving criminal justice wouldn’t be an easy process, Carwyn Jones AM (Lab, Bridgend) said Wales’ position was highly unusual:

“….it’s clear that the commission has delivered a damning indictment on the state of the justice system in Wales. But it has also provided us with a bold vision and a route-map for how we can deliver improved outcomes for the people of Wales, and that must be our overriding objective in creating a fair and more just Wales.”
– Counsel General & Brexit Minister, Jeremy Miles (Lab, Neath)

Geographic realities

Naturally, not everyone in the chamber supports the devolution of criminal justice.

Shadow Communities Minister, Mark Isherwood AM (Con, North Wales), said the report failed to accept “demographic and geographic realities” – namely that crime doesn’t respect borders and North Wales Police co-operates more closely with forces in north-west England. Many services to manage offenders and prevent re-offending were already within the remit of the Welsh Government.

Mark Reckless AM (BXP, South Wales East) suggested that just because there were difficulties it doesn’t automatically follow that services should be devolved, as it would equally mean that devolved services that experience problems should be returned to London rule. Unlike the Conservatives, he agreed with other AMs that cuts to policing and justice have gone too far.

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