The debate over the devolution of policing and justice

Tom Davies says we need an informed debate on the devolution of policing and justice to the National Assembly

The debate over the devolution of policing and justice has not yet begun. The devolving of these last and very substantial public services would prove a tipping point in the development of our Government in Wales. A variety of both opportunities and challenges face government, stakeholders and practitioners in Wales, making a full and frank debate on these issues essential.

There are approximately 6,600 police officers working in Wales today and thousands of others employed in the four police forces in Wales. Add to this prison services and probation, courts, lawyers, judges and this is a sector, which employs tens of thousands of people in Wales. Furthermore the work that this sector undertakes affects every person living in Wales. This is why its vital that we have a proper debate over justice and policing in Wales.

Until recently I sat as the Independent Police Complaints Commissioner for Wales. With this role, I learnt a lot about the role of policing in Wales. Now, its potential devolution has come to the fore with the Silk Commission’s remit to assess the powers of the National Assembly for Wales.

Justice and Policing are devolved in both Northern Ireland and Scotland, thus it seems natural to examine the consequences of its potential devolution in Wales. Indeed, policing and justice remain the only public services not devolved in Wales. Evidence taken by the Silk Commission and made public on their website has shown varied opinions over the devolution of justice and policing, despite scarce in-depth analysis of the shape of any potential settlement for Welsh policing or a Welsh justice system.

In a poll released earlier this year and commissioned by the Silk Commission,

  • 63% of respondents (out of 2,009 people surveyed) thought that policing should be devolved to the power of the National Assembly for Wales.
  • 63% (out of 2,009 people surveyed) believed that powers over criminal justice should be retained by the UK Government.

Are the two so disengaged that one can be devolved without the other?

I have agreed to chair such a debate. The institute of Welsh Affairs in association with the UK’s Changing Union project is currently working on a new model for policy that brings stakeholders in throughout the entire policy process. Although a pilot, 30 participants, from myself to lawyers, politicians, police officers and academics are now involved in a project to bring a good debate over the issues of justice and policing in Wales. This debate is currently taking place on a private platform due to the sensitive nature of the subject, however outcomes will be made public through reports, events and briefings.

I’ve agreed to be a part of this, not because I think we’re going to find an answer to whether policing and justice should be devolved, but because I think that we have a responsibility to make sure that there is a debate held over this. With varied opinions and stakeholders being involved we have an opportunity to see different perspectives and discuss the detail of what policing and justice in Wales currently involves, and what it has the potential or the capacity to involve.

Tom Davies was until recently the Independent Police Complaints Commissioner for Wales, a post which he held for ten years

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