Welsh PCCs welcome plans for a devolved justice system

The four police and crime commissioners (PCCs) for Wales have welcomed the Welsh government’s proposals for a devolved justice system.

May 24, 2022
By Paul Jacques
Counsel General Mick Antoniw

They said it would be “the logical next step in the devolution journey” with the work of policing and the criminal justice system “inextricably linked with a range of devolved responsibilities”.

A document published on Tuesday (May 24) by the Welsh government highlights the “increasing development” of a distinct Welsh justice policy based on “prevention through tackling social challenges and rehabilitation, instead of a more punitive approach”.

In Delivering Justice for Wales, Counsel General Mick Antoniw, and Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt, said that the underlying reasons for pressures on the justice system can only be addressed by taking a “preventative, holistic and inclusive approach”.

The publication says that devolution of justice to Wales is ‘inevitable’, and sets out the core components of what a devolved justice system would look like.

This would include:

  • Focusing on prevention and rehabilitation;
  • Reducing the size of the prison population by pursuing alternatives to custody where appropriate, such as programmes to address mental health issues and support with treatment for drug and alcohol misuse; and
  • Taking a rights based approach to law and policy making, and expanding the incorporation of internationally agreed rights’ standards into domestic law.

Delivering Justice for Wales also states that in overseeing a devolved justice system the Welsh government would give the “highest priority” to tackling the national crisis of male violence against women, and the “shockingly low levels” of convictions for rape and sexual assault.

Mr Antoniw said: “The only sustainable way to improve the justice system is to reduce the number of people coming into contact with it.

“Our publication sets out the innovative ways in which we are using the powers we have, including early intervention to steer people away from the criminal justice system, and how we would seek to build on that through a fully devolved justice system.”

The Counsel General added that the policies of successive UK governments since 2010 have “firmly pulled the shutters down” on access to justice, threatened fundamental rights and protections, and removed vital funding.

He said: “We will continue to use the levers at our disposal to pursue a whole-system, person-centred approach to justice. And we look forward to justice and policing being devolved to Wales so we can accelerate this work and deliver a better system for citizens, communities and businesses across Wales.”

Actions that the Welsh government has already taken include an additional £22 million annually for 600 police community support officers (PCSOs), the provision of 13 remote court hearing facilities across Wales for victims of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, and a Family Drug and Alcohol Court pilot in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.

The Minister for Social Justice said the clear conclusion of the independent Commission on Justice in 2019 was that policies and decisions about justice need to be determined and delivered in Wales, so they “align with the distinct and developing social, health, social justice and education policy and services in Wales and the growing body of Welsh law”.

Ms Hutt added: “By joining up the justice system with the rest of Welsh policy making we can find truly effective ways of reducing crime.

“Our work on the Youth Justice and Women’s Justice Blueprints, and violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, show what can be done collaboratively to develop services tailored to the Welsh context.

“As it stands, however, the savings we make for courts or prisons – for example, through PCSOs being successful in crime prevention – are not being reinvested in Wales. Devolution must happen so all this money can be reinvested in meeting Wales’s urgent needs.”

On future plans for justice reform within the current constraints, ministers confirmed that they will:

  • Consider the case for a Welsh Human Rights Bill;
  • Work in partnership with the new Law Council of Wales to improve the sustainability of the legal sector in Wales, especially in rural and post-industrial areas; and
  • Create a unified, single structurally independent system of tribunals in Wales (as recommended by the December 2021 Law Commission report on devolved tribunals).

In a joint statement, the four Welsh PCCs – Alun Michael (South Wales), Dafydd Llywelyn (Dyfed-Powys), Andy Dunbobbin (North Wales) and Jeff Cuthbert (Gwent) – said: “It is our considered view that the way that policing and criminal justice in Wales has been delivered through the pandemic consolidates the case for devolution, in the best interest of the delivery of justice in Wales and of joined-up services to the public.

“For the first time, the police had to enforce legislation set by Welsh government and our Senedd because Covid-19 rules were set under health powers that are devolved. In exercising those powers Welsh government ministers respected the role of the police and engaged with us to make them effective.

“The four of us therefore have full confidence in endorsing and supporting the aspiration of Welsh government to see ministerial responsibility for policing and criminal justice in Wales – and indeed civil justice too – being devolved into the hands of the Welsh government and the Welsh Parliament.

“There is a significant detail that needs to be worked through to deliver that aspiration as a practical reality. Chief constables would not take a view on the principle of devolution but will have views on significant operational issues, including the delivery of inspection, oversight of complaints and mutual support across borders.

“Maintenance of key principles like judicial independence and consistency will need to be worked through. And we are already working hard to improve policing and criminal justice in Wales without waiting for devolution to happen.”

The Welsh government has also published an updated Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence strategy, highlighting the six aims it will set to help end the “abhorrent abuse women face”. These are:

  1. Challenge attitudes to violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence by raising awareness of its impact and consequences;
  2. Increase awareness of the importance of safe, equal and healthy relationships;
  3. Hold those who commit abuse to account and help people who carry out abusive or violent behaviour to change;
  4. Prioritise early intervention and prevention;
  5. Provide training to professionals so they are equipped to give effective, timely and appropriate support to victims and survivors; and
  6. Provide all victims with equal access to properly-resourced, high-quality support services, wherever they live in Wales.

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