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A Welsh legal system -the arguments begin

Cheryl Gillan says that having one legal system for England and Wales has served Wales well for centuries. Photo: Wales Office

Cheryl Gillan probably did not want to be taken literally when she claimed that the legal system for England and Wales has served Wales well for centuries. It's unlikely that she looks back with any enthusiasm at witchcraft trials, public executions or the seizure of goods by the Court of Requests that triggered the Merthyr Rising in 1831.

The current system for England and Wales has served Wales well for centuries. There is no reason to make changes simply for change’s sake.

– Cheryl Gillan MP

The change that has alarmed the Welsh Secretary is the possible establishment of a separate legal system for Wales. It's actually less than two hundred years since a distinctly Welsh system of courts was abolished. What has been true for centuries is that there has been no distinct Welsh law.

There have been plenty of laws affecting only Wales but they have always been part of the law of both England and Wales. The system coped with major pieces of legislation such as the Victorian acts of parliament setting up of a distinctly Welsh education system and forcing pubs in Wales to close on Sundays.

There has hardly been a avalanche of new laws since the National Assembly gained the power last year to pass its own acts but the Welsh government has decided that now is the right time to ask if Wales should be a separate legal entity, like Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We must give serious consideration to whether or not this is the right thing to do for Wales in the context of our evolving devolution settlement and our place within the UK.

– Theodore Huckle QC, Counsel General for Wales

The Counsel General's announcement in the Senedd this afternoon was received with politeness rather than enthusiasm. The Conservative David Melding, who is chairing the Assembly's own look at the question, mentioned both why it might be a good idea -and why it might not.

The legal personality of Wales is growing stronger [but] there are issues in terms of the capacity of the legal profession.

– David Melding AM, Deputy Presiding Officer

Mr Melding was recently praised by his leader, Andrew RT Davies, for knowing what the people of Wales believed before they knew it themselves. So if he isn't sure, this might turn out to be a public consultation when the public don't want to be consulted.

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