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Time for Welsh justice for Wales

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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.
ADVICE DESERTS
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.

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Politics

Next stage of the rollout by Open Reach

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Local member of the Welsh Parliament Lee Waters has welcomed news that Open Reach is bringing super-fast fiber broadband to new parts of the Llanelli constituency.

The next stage of the rollout by Open Reach will bring full fibre to the premises broadband to thousands of homes over the course of the next few years. Provision of super-fast broadband has been a priority of Welsh Government, and the new roll out will increase provision across Wales and Carmarthenshire. The provision of broadband is the responsibility of the Westminster Government, but the Welsh Labour Government have stepped in to fill gaps in the network in Wales that commercial providers have left behind.

Lee Waters MS said:

“I’m really pleased that super-fast fibre broadband is being rolled out to more homes in the area.

“Burry Port, Llanedi, Cross Hands, Hendy, Llannon, Pembrey and Tumble will all start having full fibre installed later this year. This stage of the roll-out is being fully funded by OpenReach.

“This is on top of the investment made by the Welsh Government to get 95% of households connected to fast broadband.

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Community

AM seeks assurances for Llanelli car industry

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Mid and West AM Helen Mary Jones has asked for assurances in the Senedd from the Welsh Government about the future of automotive industry in Llanelli.

Car production in the UK fell to its lowest level in almost a decade last week. It was revealed output fell 14 per cent to 1.3 million, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Production shutdowns in anticipation of Brexit is one of the factors impacting on the decrease in output.

Shadow Minister for Economy, Tackling poverty and Transport for Plaid Cymru, Helen Mary Jones AM said:

“It is just over a year since the Schaeffler automotive factory in Llanelli announced that it would be closing with the loss of 220 jobs. These were good-quality jobs, jobs that could sustain families productively. There are real concerns in the sector about the access to markets. I asked the Brexit Minister about further discussions the Welsh Government could have with the UK Government to try and ensure that we do have a voice around the table when negotiations are being made.

“This is especially important with regard to both the new trade deal that we’ll hopefully have with the European Union and any other free trade deals, to ensure that there are no unintended consequences.  For example, allowing access to markets for vehicles and vehicle parts from outside Wales that might have a negative effect on the supply chain that companies have put a lot of effort into building up over many years.”

The automotive sector in Wales is comprised of about 150 firms, mainly component manufacturers, employing over 18,000 workers adding £3 billion to the Welsh economy.

Brexit Minister Jeremy Miles AM said:

“We are in regular dialogue with companies in the sector, with the Welsh Automotive Forum, and with national sector bodies regarding the potential impact of Brexit. Having an ongoing and frictionless trading relationship with the EU is very important for the automotive sector, and indeed for other sectors.”

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News

Opinon: Matthew Paul

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EU Referendum

Well, you did it, you bastards. You won. At 11pm today, the UK will have left the European Union.


This hasn’t occasioned the cataclysm that –until 13 th December– the turbulent Brexit process might have led us to expect. The weeks since Boris Johnson’s thumping majority made Brexit an inevitability have been an anticlimax on the scale of The Godfather Part III.


Three and a half years of high political drama have ended in six weeks of Brexit bathos.


On Wednesday, our representatives in the European Parliament packed up their desks, emptied their lockers and –heavy of heart and misty of eye– signed off their final, Brobdingnagian claims for expenses. Pro-EU MEPs linked arms, waved EU flags and sang a maudlin rendition of Auld Lang Syne. In return, EU president Ursula von der Leyen told the UK she loved us and always will.


The love-in lasted about three minutes, until Nigel Farage, flanked by his gang of gruesomes, stood up to crow. In the graceless and disruptive manner he has diligently maintained over twenty years in the Parliament, Nigel rubbed fellow MEPs’ noses in the Brexit Party’s mess until the mike was switched off. Then his cohort started waving little Union flags so
enthusiastically you might have assumed Prince Harry had come back. Divorced.


The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 passed through Parliament without a murmur of disapproval, a court case, any perversions of Parliamentary procedure or even a self-indulgent ORRRRDDEEEEEERRRRR from the excellent and austere new Speaker,
Lindsay Hoyle. At sundown, EU flags will be taken down from public buildings around the UK and furled forever, in a melancholy echo of the last time Britain’s influence in the world seriously declined. All except in that bastion of Brexit resistance, the Scottish Parliament, where Nicola Sturgeon –under what legal authority it is unclear– has decreed that the
twelve stars will stay put. Mark Francois no doubt imagines himself jogging up to Edinburgh with a crack TA troop to tear it down from Holyrood in a reverse Iwo Jima.


South of Hadrian’s Wall, the mood amongst Remainers is one of defeated realism. Re- joining on the terms available to accession countries is not a serious option; the EU has gone and it ain’t coming back. Even Plaid Cymru –after getting utterly pasted in December’s election, largely because their ur-Remainy stance went down like a cup of cold sick in the valleys– aren’t clinging to dreams of readmission to the continental club.


Now, having got your damned Brexit, you now have to work out what to do with the thing.

What was the point of leaving the EU? There are some fairly compelling reasons to be out of Europe if you incline to the Corbynite hard left, because the Commission always had unhelpful things to say about confiscatory taxation and state aid for lame duck nationalised industries. Get Brussels out of the way and you are only a few strands of barbed wire and an
empty supermarket away from the usual sort of socialist paradise.


On the right, the intellectual arguments of economically liberal Brexiters have always had force. There can and will be advantages to an economy where barriers to free trade are removed, where business is freer to hire and fire, and where innovation in our tech, pharmaceutical and agri-business sectors is not restrained by regulation which adheres too closely to the precautionary principle. Intellectual arguments are all very well, but the difficulty is that this hasn’t typically been the kind of economy or society around which a political consensus has settled.


Before the General Election, in a political landscape where a powerless Prime Minister was bossed around by a hopelessly divided Parliament, it was hard to expect that much could be achieved by leaving the European Union. Now, we have a PM more powerful than any British politician since Tony Blair in 1997; with just as much of a mandate to change the country.

To benefit economically from Brexit, he will have to be prepared to do things that are very, very unpopular.


Round these parts, things that damage the livelihoods of farming communities are likely to be pretty unpopular. But this week we saw Boris inviting a stampede of half-starved, flystruck Ugandan cows into the UK meat market. “I have just told President Museveni of Uganda” he said –following a conversation quite different from the sort of Ugandan
discussions with which our Prime Minister is usually associated– “that his beef cattle will have an honoured place on the tables of post-Brexit Britain.” What is good news for herdsmen around Kampala won’t be so well-received in Knighton, Keswick or Kirkaldy.


Boris will also have to decide whether we are a country closer to Europe or America. If we choose the latter, and unless the US Democratic Party seriously ups its game, we will be saddled with another four years of having The Donald as our psychopathic cell mate in a prison we built for ourselves. It’s in our interest to keep him happy, but this week’s decision to allow Huawei –the tech equivalent of coronavirus– to supply hardware for Britain’s 5g mobile networks was like carelessly reaching for the remote control in the middle of one of Trump’s favourite TV shows. There are worrying noises coming from the top bunk, as of someone sharpening a shiv to use on us in the first round of post-Brexit trade talks.


So, residents of workless Labour-voting constituencies in South Wales; farmers who didn’t like filling in the subsidy forms; anyone who hates being bossed around by foreigners but doesn’t count Donald Trump amongst their number. You voted for it. You got it. It’s here.


Enjoy it; it’s going to be a wild ride.

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