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

9 thoughts on “The debate over the devolution of policing and justice

  1. Tom is talking a lot of Rot! All devolution of the Police would do is to give jobs to the boyos.Far better leave things as they are. Next we will be building up criminal legislation applicable only to Wales and Welsh lawyers will make a fortune as specialists in it all at our cost. We have been well ruled from Westminster for 600 years and that should continue. To date Assembly control has meant a worse Health Service than in England, poorer Education, worse run Local Government and even more expensive docks than over the border. This devolution lark must stop. When the Welsh people were offered a referendum on devolution the first time thy rejected it decisively. The second time it was very narrowly accepted by a tiny majority on a low poll. Having seen the abysmal performance of the Assembly we should now be asked if it should be abolished. We should not be being lobbied for more powers.

  2. I wonder why PHCD has decided to omit the third referendum on from his narrative?

  3. A separate justice system for Wales is a very poor idea. Such change would reduce the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, criminals take no account of boundaries, and add greatly to cost A separate civil/procedural system for Wales would irreparably damage business confidence and drive away jobs by the thousand. Wales benefits considerably from having a system unified with England. You do not need to be a brain surgeon to see the massive damage that would flow from altering a system that has been in place for four hundred years and which delivers. To devolve the system we would need to quickly reinvent the legal wheel to get us to where we are already! Who seriously wishes to create a separate jurisdiction?
    I would give Hong Kong as an example with which I am familiar as a former senior civil servant. Its system, essentially the same as in England and Wales, has been maintained beyond the colonial period to a marked degree. This similarity is hugely appreciated by the local and international community because it has worked well and is widely understood. It is the principal reason why Hong Kong is so successful and why it is is the fourth largest financial centre in the world. It is also why the sovereign, The Peoples’ Republic of China, leaves well alone.

  4. Peter Hugh Charles Davies I will not be as rude as you have been by saying that you talk a lot of rot but I think your comment needs revising. True there have been some great advantages of the union but not always has ‘rule from Westminster’ been to our advantage (e.g. the Blue Books, Flooding of Capel Celyn, Poll tax, obliteration of much of our industry in the 80s etc.)
    I think the point of this debate is the principle of subsidiarity i.e. certain decisions and responsibilities are best taken as close as possible to the people. The debate is looking at whether police and justice are best administered by the Welsh elected body rather than an England and Wales elected body, i.e. Westminster / Whitehall – which are often so busy and log jammed that Wales is sometimes placed low down on the list of priorities. It’s a great shame that so much mudslinging, like your unfortunate comment, has hijacked the devolution debate and taken away the principle of subsidiarity. Let’s have a more grown up and sensible debate.

  5. Peter Hugh Charles Davies

    Why do those who wish to denigrate Wales feel obliged to roll out “boyo”? I can’t remember the last time I heard that word used by anybody I know.

  6. The 4 police forces are going to be amalgamated some time so better to have them under one set-up and be administered by the Assembly.

    As for cost the it’ll be the same as now and any new cost will be less that the 4 new commissioners.

    Jobs for lawyers – if you live in Bridgend the you’ll probably use a Bridgend-based lawyer, can’t see how that would cost more or mean more lawyers if Wales had its own judiciary. Actually, Wales could follow Scotland’s recent success in crime reduction which was cause by less police intervention.

    It’s a no brainer. The police would be more answerable to Welsh people because they’d be administerd by the National Assembly, which, if I’m correct is run by the Labour party which is the biggest party in Wales as opposed to the Con-LibDems which are not. So, the police in Wales would be more answerable to Welsh people and Welsh aspirations and priorities.

  7. I don’t see the 50 separate legal and law enforcement jurisdictions in the United Sates calling for their own abolition in the interests of either good jurisprudence or economic interest…

    Nor the 6 in Australia, the 13 in Canada, the 16 in Germany or the other 5 in the British Isles for that matter.

    Quite the opposite I’d have said. Executive, fiscal and legal decentralisation seem to have been somewhat ‘central’ to the modus operandi of the world’s richest countries… Or at least that’s the evidence. But why bother with evidence when the Welshman’s perennial bedfellows, fear and self-loathing, are close at hand?

  8. David Fitzpatrick,

    I’m not sure if you’ve thought through your Hong Kong comments. Anyway, I’m all for having our own Welsh version of Hong Kong’s 1997 freedom from ‘Britain’ event.

  9. David Fitzpatrick does rather argue against himself. The Hong Kong system has survived as “essentially the same system as England and Wales” despite being a separate jurisdiction with no appeal to the UK’s Supreme Court. If business is happy with that arrangement why would they “leave Wales in droves”. There’s absolutely no hurry for a Welsh jurisdiction because at present there is very little Welsh law but it will emerge over the years as the Assembly legislates.

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy