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.
Llanelli MP & AM call for school transport solutions
Llanelli’s MP and AM joined Tumble residents on Friday (15.01.20) to walk along the unlit path that children have been forced to take since a bus service to Maes y Gwendraeth school was scrapped.
A number of school bus routes in Carmarthenshire have been cancelled in response to UK Government legislation which has restricted the types of vehicles that bus companies can use. This has left many children who relied on these services with no safe way to get to school.
Nia Griffith MP and Lee Waters AM are working with local residents and councillors, like Dot Jones in Tumble, to find solutions that can be implemented by the County Council or UK Government.
Lee Waters AM said, “After carrying the bags and instruments of a Tumble pupil three miles to school on Friday morning it’s clear we need to get these services running again. I’ve been working with the Council and Welsh Government to try and find a common sense resolution to the problem of cancelled school buses right across Llanelli.
“It’s a complicated situation, and unfortunately the Welsh Government’s powers are limited, but we may have found a way forward if the UK Government are willing to be flexible. The Welsh Government has written to ask them to exempt school transport in Carmarthenshire from the new regulations which would allow the local services to resume.”
In addition to commercial school bus routes, there is also a scheme for pupils to access spare places on the coaches that pick up children who live further away from school for a small fare. However, local parents have raised concerns about the availability of this scheme and the process by which places are allocated.
Nia Griffith MP said, “We must work together to find ways to restore bus transport as soon as possible, even if the situation is complex.
“I understand the County Council will now review the scheme which lets pupils use spare places on existing school buses, but this needs to be done as quickly and effectively as possible to ensure the maximum number of pupils benefit.
“It is crazy to have buses with spare capacity passing the bus stop and leaving pupils to walk. But we need transport back for all pupils who have lost it.”
Cllr Rob James, who joined the walk to Ysgol Maes y Gwendraeth on Friday, said: “The bus services that have been withdrawn are vital services to many of our communities and must be retained.
“The local ward Councillors and I are thrilled with the support we are getting from the local MP and AM to solve these issues and we hope that there can be a resolution shortly.”
Partnership outreach van providing help and support to those in need
Partnership outreach van providing help and support to those in need in Llanelli extended thanks to further funding by Police and Crime Commissioner
Following the success of a partnership outreach van parked up in Station Road, Llanelli in December – the initiative is being extended thanks to further funding provided by Police and Crime Commissioner, Dafydd Llywelyn. The Commissioner originally instigated the additional partnership working pilot in Llanelli in response to local concerns relating to substance misuse – and the response to the van in Llanelli was overwhelmingly positive, with 35 people receiving support from one or all of the agencies on the van across both nights.
Dyfed-Powys Police teamed up with Dyfed Drug and Alcohol Service (DDAS), Carmarthenshire County Council and Crimestoppers Fearless campaign in order to be able to engage with members of the community on the new outreach van, in order to support and signpost those in need during the festive period. The partners then came together and held a debrief session to consider the initial success and value of the initiative. Of the 35 people who had visited the van to seek support on both evenings – 12 were referred into DDAS and housing and employment services for longer term support.
At the conclusion of the debrief, there was consensus amongst the partners that the communities of Tyisha and Glanymor would benefit from extending it and there was an appetite for it, therefore each agency was keen to commit ongoing resources to the outreach van for the next three months. The initiative will then be reviewed again at that point.
Chief Inspector Chris Neve of Dyfed-Powys Police said: “I am once again grateful to the Police and Crime Commissioner and our partners for their ongoing support for this initiative – which proved to be a popular and valuable opportunity for the communities of Llanelli to speak and work with the services involved. I was pleased to see so many people receiving the support and advice they needed in the initial phase of the initiative – and we now look forward to being able to continue to provide these services for the next three months and helping many more people. I encourage anyone who requires support and advice from any of the agencies, or would just like to chat with any of them, to come along and visit the van.
The council’s Head of Homes and Safer Communities Jonathan Morgan said: “This is an excellent opportunity for the community to speak to our officers first-hand about any issues they may have or any advice they may need on housing matters. We have exciting plans to transform the Tyisha ward and the community is a big part of that, we want to make Tyisha a better place to live and work for everyone.”
The project aims to provide a convenient and approachable opportunity for those in the community that would benefit from advice and support from these services, but who may not always proactively seek this out. It also allows the agencies to understand and experience first-hand the issues in the area.
The outreach van will next be parked in the St Elli Shopping Centre, Llanelli on Thursday January 16 between10am and 2pm, where all the partners will be there promoting the project and explaining what they can offer.
Then from Thursday January 23, the van will be parked back in Station Road between 2pm and 7pm for anyone to access, and then every two weeks for the next three months. They’ll be ready and waiting to provide advice and support to all those in need.
Opposition slate WG Budget
FINANCE MINISTER Rebecca Evans unveiled the Welsh Government’s draft Budget with plans to invest more than £8bn for the Welsh NHS alongside ambitious projects to help combat climate change.
In the first Budget following the declaration of a climate emergency in Wales, there is significant new funding for low carbon transport and housing and support to restore Wales’ natural environment. This budget also protects major ongoing funding for renewable energy, the development of zero-carbon technologies and access to nature.
The 2020-21 draft Budget will see the Welsh NHS receive an inflation-busting increase of £342m next year, alongside an almost £200m boost for local government. Core funding for local authorities will grow to almost £4.5bn, boosting resources for schools, social care and other local services.
There will also be additional funding to tackle poverty, including extra support for disadvantaged pupils, and investment for town centre regeneration in a budget that delivers real-term increases for all Welsh Government departments.
This Budget also confirms that Welsh rates of income tax will be unchanged for next year, maintaining the pledge not to raise tax rates this Assembly term. It also focuses on longer-term, preventative measures to promote the wellbeing of future generations.
The UK government’s September 2019 spending round provided funding allocations for one year only. Following this announcement, like-for-like funding for Wales next year will be £300m lower compared with 2010-11.
Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “This draft Budget delivers on our promises to the people of Wales and invests for the future of our planet.
“Despite a decade of austerity, we have consistently prioritised our NHS. Our plans will confirm a £37bn investment in the Welsh NHS since 2016.
“As we take on the climate emergency, I am protecting our existing investment and delivering a new £140m package with support for low carbon transport and a National Forest for Wales.
“Funding increases for other vital public services, such as schools and local government have also been secured in this year’s Budget. Ministers have also worked across government to focus on long-term, preventative measures such as mental health investment in line with the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
“Even though our like for like funding remains below 2010 levels, this Budget strives for a greener, equal and prosperous Wales.”
Responding for the Conservatives, Darren Millar AM tore into the Draft Budget 2020-21.
Speaking in the Senedd on Tuesday (Jan 7), he said it was “…an opportunity the Finance Minister has missed…”, and full of policies that are “…tried, tested, and failed”.
From the M4 Relief Road, to Cardiff Airport, and from health and education to the economy, Mr Millar said that the Finance Minister had a golden opportunity to invest in the people’s priorities, drive a more dynamic economy, and build on the opportunities for Wales outside the European Union.
“But,” he began, “where there was the opportunity to be imaginative you’ve opted for the mundane. Where there was the opportunity to rise to the challenge and be ambitious for our economy, you sat back. Where there was the opportunity to be radical you’ve stuck to the tried, tested and failed.”
Mr Millar continued his passionate critique of the Draft Budget, calling the lack of investment in Welsh roads – including the M4 Relief Road rejected by the Welsh Labour Government following a £144-million investigation – “… one of the biggest barriers to growth and investment in South Wales” and calling for investment in the A55 and A40.
“But ironically, when we look at where the Welsh Government is investing in transport – it’s actually in the most polluting form – air travel.
“This year, we’ve seen a further £4.8 million for the state-owned Cardiff Airport, on top of a loan above £21m announced in October.”
Just last week, pre-tax losses at the airport trebled from the previous year to some £18.5m, far more than the modest £1m loss during the airport’s last full year in private ownership in 2012.
Specifically on the environment, Mr Millar – who represents Clywd West – said: “This was proclaimed as a ‘green’ budget, but the reality is that the Welsh Government’s response to its climate change emergency declaration has been slow, vague and uncosted. We need to see more investment in cleaner technology in line with the drive to phase out diesel and petrol vehicles.
“Many Welsh counties have the poorest network of electric vehicle charging stations in Britain. Why isn’t this budget doing more to invest in these? It’s a missed opportunity to invest in clean technology and encourage consumers to make greener choices.”
Speaking later, Mr Millar said: “There are elements of this Draft Budget I have welcomed, as have my Welsh Conservative colleagues, but overall its one failed opportunity after another from a failing Welsh Labour Government.”
Plaid Cymru shadow minister for the economy and finance Rhun ap Iorwerth AM said: “This is a budget that delivers only in its lack of ambition.
“Twenty years of Labour rule in Wales has shown us that more money for our NHS doesn’t in itself mean better services. What we need to see from this Labour government is a strategic plan on how this extra funding will be spent on preventative measures instead of the continued mismanagement of our NHS and health boards that are still in special measures. Meanwhile, local government is still not being given the level of funding it so desperately needs to deliver crucial front line public services.
“The £140m package for low carbon transport is not nearly ambitious enough and such a small package in the face of such a colossal global climate crisis shows that this Labour government isn’t taking the issue seriously enough.”
Rhun ap Iorwerth added: “To compound the problem of Labour mismanagement, the truth is, that the Welsh Government’s budget will be tied to the priorities of whatever government is sitting in Westminster, and we know that UK Governments – of whichever colour – care little about addressing Wales’ needs.”
News2 weeks ago
New Starbucks Drive Thru store opens in Llanelli
News2 weeks ago
Body of a man found in camper van near lifeboat station
Health1 day ago
No action at Cardiff Airport over virus
Community2 weeks ago
Are you missing out on a Council Tax reduction?
Uncategorised1 week ago
Cambrian & Clydach v Llanelli Town.
Community1 week ago
Partnership outreach van providing help and support to those in need
Community2 weeks ago
RNLI in Wales urges people to stay safe as Storm Brendan hits
Community4 days ago
Llanelli MP & AM call for school transport solutions