An Englishman went up a hill ...


There's this Englishman walking up a hill - up a mountain actually. Let's say he's from Norwich and that the mountain is Snowdon.

On his way down (having shouted "hey, guess where I am, up Snowdon!" into his mobile) he falls on a dodgy bit of the footpath and injures his leg. When he gets back to Norwich he decides to sue the people whose job it was to make sure the footpaths were well maintained.

He finds that he could use a local Norwich solicitor to bring the claim in a Norwich court, even though he's relying solely on a piece of legislation passed by the Assembly and that has a practical effect only within Wales.

The accident prone walker gets better, then heads off the following year to conquer Ben Nevis. Guess what? He falls. He's not the lucky type. He decides to bring a claim under an Act of the Scottish Parliament but when he gets home to Norwich, he finds that a local solicitor is unlikely to be of much use and that he'll probably be required to travel to Scotland to have his case heard.

There you go - an example (copyright the Welsh government) to tease out what it might all mean if Wales becomes a separate legal jurisdiction.

Shall I be honest? I felt for the poor bloke but it didn't do much for me. It didn't really signal the significance of the question being asked of us. So with apologies to Norwich, let me try it my way.

Since 2006 the Assembly has had the power to make laws. Since last year's referendum it's had the power to make those laws without the need to involve Westminster - laws that are made only in Wales and that affect only Wales.

That hasn't exactly, as the Welsh Conservatives point out today, led to a legislation rush. A single bill on local government bye-laws is "hardly setting the world alight" as they put it.

But that's not to say that there isn't already a body of law that applies only to Wales. Think of the old - banning Welsh pubs from opening on Sundays. Think of the new - banning the use of electric dog collars. Think future plans for changing the laws around organ donation and smacking children. Then consider the Health Bill making its way through the parliamentary process in Westminster - legislation that will apply only in England.

The question then, say legal experts, is at what point does it become more than a bit silly to say there's no such thing as "Welsh law" and no "English law" either come to that - just one law of "England and Wales" ... but that it happens to be different either side of Offa's Dyke? Is that a sustainable point of view?

If you're wondering, it's worth reading this paper by two people who've done more than their fair share of wondering before submitting their evidence.

Carwyn Jones - a former barrister, though not as good a barrister, he reckons, as the current Counsel General Theo Huckle QC - told the Legal Wales Conference last year that "the development of a legal system fit for a healthy and propsperous Wales is vital". It was inevitable, he said, that devolution wold lead to "more distinct Welsh law applying in Wales in future." He doesn't sound like a man prepared to wait for what's been described as a "tipping point" - more in the let's-manage-change and make it happen camp.

Would establishing a separate Welsh jurisdiction lead inevitably to a separate court system?

How would you deal with cross border issues? Could truanting children, for instance, do a Dukes of Hazzard and 'cross the county line' into England to avoid local authority education officers?

Would it lead to lining lawyers' pockets? Or would it, as others have tried to argue, mean less work for lawyers trained in Wales who'd lose out to law-firms in Bristol and Chester, say?

There's support from the Liberal Democrats for asking the question in a public consultation at the very least. "It doesn't make sense" Kirsty Williams told me this morning, "that a matter of Welsh law is heard in an English court ... There is an inevitability about this".

The Conservative response from Westminster: why bother? When you have plenty of problems to deal with in the here and now, why faff around and fix something that isn't broken. "There is no reason to make changes simply for change's sake" says the Welsh Secretary. The language used in private in Westminster amongst her colleagues is more vivid. In Cardiff Bay the Tory line is softer. For now they don't see the need but further down the track, who knows?

Most supportive? Plaid Cymru. "Plaid Cymru has long-campaigned for Welsh control over our crime and justice system in its entirety, including policing and youth justice. Only by doing that can Wales fully tackle the complex problems of individual and community safety and rehabilitation."

And now, here is the Labour First Minister, Carwyn Jones delivering a public consultation into more Welsh control of the criminal justice system. He does realise, doesn't he, that he doesn't need to absorb Plaid out of existence any more, said a Labour voice in Westminster recently. It worked a treat while they were in government. He can stop now.

The 12 week public consultation - well, that starts now.

Betsan Powys Article written by Betsan Powys Betsan Powys Former political editor, Wales

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  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    continuing from #15.

    When Carwyn Jones said ...

    "The development of a legal system fit for a healthy and prosperous Wales is vital."

    ... as reported by the BBC at

    ... his words confirm the "consultation" is no consultation, it is little more than a press briefing in preparation for another WAG incursion into our liberties.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Having read the document for a second time my conclusion is the proposition will strengthen politics in Wales.

    I prefer weak politics with a strong democracy.

    What also struck me was "Lady Justice", represented on the front cover of the document, has a very distinct blindfold, no doubt to hide her embarrassment at this next "tidying up exercise".

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    13: They are silly? That's why there’s are debate the creation of a long over due Welsh legal system. Normal legislative Nations control they're own legal system, which is run from it’s own borders and not by proxy from another country‘s with an English structured legal system, or do you prefer Westminster’s priorities of giving parties to Tory Donors as a priority over Welsh Democracy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    No doubt separate jurisdiction would make sense at some point when enough different Welsh law has built up and, contrary to the slippery slope panic-attackers, it just echoes Scotland and NI and is no big deal. For that very reason I can't see the urgency. Surely the Welsh government should have more pressing things to worry about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    08:Connell: You are a total Muppet which Jim Henson would be proud of? Repeal Devolution he squeals? How about a test on loyalty, would you pass or pass out. You & your ilk don’t like Democracy for Wales so you throw your respective dummies out of your prams when you cannot get your way. Fear not dumpling, I know a safe place where to place to insert your dummy to keep you happy & content! ?:)

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    07:Your German example has gaping flaws! Britain is a state of nations with different legal systems already, not a one size fits all (been asleep for the past 1000yrs have we?) , Wales will just be falling into line with the rest of the UK I:E Scotland, Eng & NI with it‘s own legal system. We can all co exist together as separate nations with different legal & law systems. Time to grow up foe!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    cont ... a separate legal system is a requirement for separation, to create the separate legal system in preparation for such an event is "good planning".

    No doubt BP can whip up other biblical parables so that Carwyn can convince the people to support his intentions.

    I wonder, can she also train Carwyn to walk on water .....

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Should a Devolved Wales have a different legal system to England is like saying to a man with his backside on fire to be happy that he's warm and not to put himself out? Of course Wales should have a different system, We're a legislative nation that's tied to England’s judiciary coat tails whilst Scotland & NI have their own seperate courts. This proposal for Wales can’t come soon enough!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    A common parliament requires a common vote. It is not equitable that the UK Parliament has a four tier membership - in order of voting powers: 1 Scotland 2 Northern Ireland 3 Wales 4 England. Repeal legislative devolution (it's not to late) and support common representation (

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Having read the consultation document it revolves around a single question that might be answered by all ...

    "Would the shared England and Wales jurisdiction be sustainable if Welsh devolution were widened?"

    The answer is of course a resounding "Yes", Federal Germany has a single integrated legal system that work's across real and surreal boundaries, of course as BP is well aware cont ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Wow, we really are hurtling down that "slippery slope". At this rate in a decade or two Wales will have the same powers the Scottish Parliament had when it was established in 1999.

    Steady on now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    With the state that Wales is in coupled with the impending independence and chaos not far ahead..

    Now is the best time to buy a place in mainland Europe.

    Buy now, prices are low, do it up yourself.. Then soon,when Wales falls apart, your new home will be ready.

    No more Assembly, Plaid Cymru, dying languages, and imaginary "Welsh" culture.!

    Well, do you really want Welsh only laws?


  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    2. Correct. We are slowly but surely going down that 'slippery slope' at a faster pace,as our FM seems determined to out perform PC,rather than sorting out the great problems that face us in Wales.Quite why the anglo part of Labour allow the welsh speaking/western wing to dominate matters is quite beyond little me.The english speaking majority who are perfectly happy in UK,need to defend themself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Whether I'm for or against the idea of law making powers is uncertain at this stage. What I am certain of however is that I always enjoy Betsan's presentation of an issue and none more so than this one. Most entertaining and thought provoking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    A creep strategy of nationalism, seperate bit by bit, lie or cover the truth so people don't notice it's happening until they decide it's inevitable. Wake up, we can stop this seperatism now, end Devolution. One people, one nation, one parliament.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Employment, Education, Health, 3 colusses in the here and now that need priority treatment, not worrying who can sue who in different courts.

    The FM said he is about delivery, well start delivering on the 3 colossi already noted.

    Our own law system will come but does not need to be rushed.


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