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Wales is big enough to run its own legal system, says Conser

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Wales is big enough to run its own legal system, says Conser

PostTue Mar 15, 2016 6:07 pm

elsh Secretary Stephen Crabb has said he does not intend to include proposals for Wales to have a separate legal jurisdiction

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Wales needs to get rid of idea it's too small to have its own legal systemWales needs to get rid of idea it's too small to have its own legal system

The view that Wales is too small to run its own legal system does not stand up to scrutiny, according to Tory barrister David Gordon Hughes, one of the leading advocates of the idea.

Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb has said he does not intend to include proposals for Wales to have a separate legal jurisdiction in his new Wales Bill, due to be published after the National Assembly election.

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But Mr Hughes said: “We need to get rid of the idea that Wales would be a particularly small place to have its own jurisdiction. We’d be bigger than Northern Ireland, we’d be bigger than about 20 of the American states.

“We’d be bigger in population terms than Western Australia and Tasmania. All these places run perfectly good legal systems. We can do it.”

Costs reduced?
Mr Hughes said that if Wales had its own legal system, the cost of access to justice for ordinary people could be brought down.

More: A barrister cross examines the case for leaving the European Union

He said: “One of the things you need to have a thriving economy is a legal system that is trustworthy, not too expensive and efficient.

“At the moment our legal system is certainly trustworthy, but it’s not cheap. It’s more efficient than in some places in the England and Wales jurisdiction, but it could be still better.

Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb
“If we reduce the cost of doing justice in Wales, that’s going to make us a more attractive place for business. We could, for example, reduce the cost of court fees if we can look to run our court system in a more efficient way.”

Viable solicitors
Mr Hughes said another way to make a Welsh legal system more accessible would be to introduce a conditional legal aid fund, under which people paid a proportion of their court cash award back into the pot.

More: The key changes Stephen Crabb has said he will make to the draft Wales Bill

He said: “If you run that scheme properly, it’s not going to cost very much. It would have an impact on employment in Wales because it would mean that solicitors’ practices were more viable.”

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Speaking more generally, Mr Hughes said: “A country with its own legal system is simply a more attractive place to do business, because you know if something goes wrong someone can do something about it.

“What particularly annoys me is when you hear solicitors say there will be a flight of talent to London. Well, a solicitor who says that in Cardiff hasn’t gone to London.

Appropriate move
“A solicitor who says that from London shows scant commitment to Wales, in my view. Not many Northern Ireland lawyers have decided to practise in England and Wales.

“I suspect they are perfectly comfortable in Northern Ireland: you’ve got your own jurisdiction and you can rise in it.”

Read more: From axes to outer space, this is the full list of 267 powers Westminster doesn't want Wales to have

From a constitutional point of view, said Mr Hughes, it makes sense for Wales to have its own jurisdiction: “With a reserved powers model [under which all powers will be devolved except those specifically reserved to Westminster: the model in the forthcoming Wales Bill], the general law-making power will reside in Wales.

“If you’re going to have that power, it is appropriate you have the power as to how the laws you have passed are enforced.

“In other words, if the Welsh Government wants to do something, it should have the power to ensure that the justice system is in a position to respond to the demands that are going to be made of it.”

Mr Hughes said Mr Crabb had proved himself to be a flexible Secretary of State, and he hoped he would see the power of the arguments for a Welsh legal jurisdiction.

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