Welsh PCCs welcome devolved judiciary plans
Wales’ four Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) have welcomed the Welsh Government’s proposals for a devolved justice system.
May 24, 2022
By Paul Jacques
They said it would be “the next logical step in the decentralization journey” with the work of the police and criminal justice system “inextricably linked to a range of delegated responsibilities”.
A document released by the Welsh Government on Tuesday (24 May) highlights the ‘increasing development’ of a distinct Welsh justice policy based on ‘prevention by tackling social challenges and rehabilitation, instead of a more punitive approach’ .
In Bringing Justice to WalesAdvocate General Mick Antoniw and Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt, said the underlying reasons for pressures on the justice system can only be addressed by taking a “preventive, holistic and inclusive approach”.
The publication says the devolution of justice in Wales is ‘inevitable’ and sets out the essential elements of what a devolved justice system would look like.
This would include:
- Focus on prevention and rehabilitation;
- Reduce the size of the prison population by seeking alternatives to detention, where available, such as programs to address mental health issues and drug and alcohol treatment support; and
- Adopt a rights-based approach to the development of laws and policies and expand the incorporation of internationally agreed rights standards into national legislation.
Bringing Justice to Wales also says that in overseeing a devolved justice system, the Welsh Government would give ‘highest priority’ to tackling the national crisis of male violence against women and ‘shockingly low levels’ of rape convictions and sexual assault.
Mr Antoniw said: “The only lasting way to improve the justice system is to reduce the number of people who come into contact with it.
“Our publication sets out the innovative ways we are using the powers we have, including early intervention to draw people away from the criminal justice system, and how we would seek to leverage this through a fully decentralized justice system. “
The Advocate General added that the policies of successive UK governments since 2010 have “firmly closed the shutters” on access to justice, threatened fundamental rights and protections and cut vital funding.
He said: “We will continue to use the levers at our disposal to pursue a whole-system, people-centred approach to justice. And we look forward to the judiciary and policing being moved to Wales so that we can speed up this work and deliver a better system for the citizens, communities and businesses of Wales.
Measures the Welsh Government have already taken include an additional £22million a year for 600 Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), the provision of 13 remote hearing facilities across the country of Wales for victims of violence against women, domestic violence and sexual violence, and a Family Drug and Alcohol Court Pilot Project in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.
The Minister for Social Justice said the clear conclusion of the Independent Justice Commission in 2019 was that justice policies and decisions need to be determined and implemented in Wales, so that they “are ‘align with distinct and developing social, health, social justice and education policies’. policy and services in Wales and the growing body of Welsh law”.
Ms Hutt added: “By linking the justice system with the rest of Welsh policy-making, we can find really effective ways to reduce crime.
“Our work on plans for youth and women’s justice, and violence against women, domestic violence and sexual violence, shows what can be done in collaboration to develop services tailored to the Welsh context.
“As things stand, however, any savings we make to courts or prisons – for example, through PCSOs’ success in preventing crime – are not being reinvested in Wales. Decentralization must take place so that all this money can be reinvested to meet the urgent needs of Wales.
With regard to future justice reform plans under current constraints, Ministers confirmed that they:
- Take the case of 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, particularly in rural and post-industrial areas; and
- Create a unified, single and structurally independent court system in Wales (as recommended by the Law Commission’s December 2021 report on devolved courts).
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: “We believe the way policing and criminal justice in Wales have been ensured during the pandemic strengthens the case for devolution, in the best interests of the delivery of justice in Wales and integrated services to the public.
“For the first time the police have had to apply the legislation set out by the Welsh Government and our Senedd because the rules for Covid-19 have been set under health powers which are delegated. In exercising these powers, Welsh Government ministers have respected the role of the police and are committed to working with us to make them effective.
“The four of us therefore have full confidence in endorsing and supporting the Welsh Government’s aspiration to see ministerial responsibility for policing and criminal justice in Wales – and indeed civil justice too – transferred between the hands of the Welsh Government and the Welsh Parliament.
“There is an important detail that needs to be worked on to turn this aspiration into a practical reality. Police chiefs would not have opinions on the principle of decentralization, but will have opinions on important operational issues, including conducting inspections, monitoring complaints and cross-border mutual support.
“Maintaining key principles such as judicial independence and consistency will have to be worked on. 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 strategy on violence against women, domestic violence and sexual violence, highlighting the six targets the government will set to help end the “heinous violence women face”. These are:
- Challenge attitudes towards violence against women, domestic violence and sexual violence by raising awareness of its impact and consequences;
- Increase awareness of the importance of safe, equal and healthy relationships;
- Hold those who commit abuse accountable and help people who engage in abusive or violent behavior to change;
- Prioritize early intervention and prevention;
- Provide training for professionals so that they are equipped to provide effective, timely and appropriate support to victims and survivors; and
- To provide all victims with equal access to high quality and adequately resourced support services, wherever they live in Wales.