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The Counsel General for Wales & Minister for European Transition, Jeremy Miles MS, has announced the creation of a Law Council of Wales, an umbrella body that aims to ‘ensure a strong and sustainable legal sector for Wales’.

In a Senedd Plenary today, Jeremy Miles, explained the new body would be representative of the sector in Wales and also independent of the Welsh Government. However, the government will work collaboratively with the Law Council and it will be facilitated by a Secretariat: The Law Society Wales office.

Miles said:

“The Thomas Commission recommended a Law Council should be established to be a “voice for legal Wales” – an umbrella body which would also promote collaborative working and provide shared resources for those working in the unique Welsh environment.

“It is important that the Law Council is independent from government, but I committed to facilitate its inception by bringing together potential participants and seeking to ensure it was established on a stable and sustainable footing.

“I am very pleased that the Law Society has agreed that its Wales office can provide the secretariat support that is needed for the Council and facilitate the Council’s establishment. This is an important contribution to the sector as a whole, going beyond the solicitors which the Law Society represents.”

The Law Council of Wales will represent the sector as a whole going beyond the solicitors which the Law Society represents. It will establish its own terms of reference and ways of working – and set its own agenda.

Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd at the 2019 launch of the Commission on Justice in Wales report.

A voice for legal Wales

The Commission on Justice in Wales, set up by the Welsh Government, undertook a review of the justice system there between December 2017 and October 2019.

Led by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the commission’s report set a long-term vision for the future of justice in Wales, and one of its priority recommendations was the creation of a Law Council of Wales to be the ‘voice for legal Wales’.

Mark Evans, chair of the Law Society’s Wales Committee, said:

“My tenure as the chair of the Wales Committee of the Law Society has coincided with a highly challenging time for the legal profession in Wales including unprecedented demands for legal advice and support – in particular as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic over the last year.

“Throughout the pandemic, our team in the Wales office have worked closely with Welsh Government officials and the profession has received tremendous support from the Counsel General.

“I am delighted that the Law Society has been given the opportunity to facilitate the Wales Law Council which is one of the priority recommendations of the report of the Commission on Justice in Wales, which was chaired by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.”

Miles MS, added:

“I am grateful to the Law Society, and the Government looks forward to working collaboratively with the new Law Council in considering its proposals to ensure a strong and sustainable legal sector for Wales.”

Wider work on progressing the recommendations

In a written statement, Miles MS added that while Covid-19 had led the Welsh Government to ‘to take the difficult decision to pause most work on taking forward the recommendations of the Commission on Justice in Wales,’ work had not stopped to carry out functions in the justice sphere.

He remarked:

“On the contrary, the pandemic has required us to engage more closely than ever in ensuring the continued safe operation of different elements of the justice system. For example, we worked to ensure that tribunals such as the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales and the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales had the legislative authority and the administrative capacity to manage cases virtually, and made contingency arrangements to allow hearings to take place in front of a single judge or to be dealt with on the papers. These contingency arrangements have not to date been needed. I am grateful to the members, staff and users of the tribunals who have adapted so effectively to the changed arrangements for the delivery of justice.

“In particular, our responsibility to protect public health has also led to an unprecedented rate of creation of criminal offences in devolved legislation. In creating these criminal offences we have been required to consider at pace what our approach should be to questions such as appropriate levels of penalties, means of enforcement and the powers of those who enforce criminal law in Wales in the light of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.”

“The experience of the pandemic has also shown that, contrary to what some defenders of the status quo have previously argued, police, courts and most importantly the public in Wales are capable of understanding and managing situations where the criminal law varies between Wales and England.”

If re-elected he said, a Labour Government ‘would take forward the promised discussions on the Thomas Report, and the case it makes for devolution of justice functions’.

Given the continuing need to consider matters of justice, the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Justice chaired by the First Minister has continued to through the pandemic period.

Public law challenges

“Finally, although we have not yet pursued discussions with the UK Government on the Thomas Commission’s report as a whole, where it has been possible to advance particular items within the report, we have continued to do so.”

For example, Miles MS said:”We were pleased that the Civil Procedure Rules Committee agreed last year to take forward the report’s recommendation that there should be a requirement that public law challenges against authorities in Wales must now be issued and heard in Wales.

“The Deputy Minister will be providing a further update to members next week on progress of the Blueprints for Female Offending and Youth Justice, which contribute towards achieving those recommendations of the Thomas Commission that can be progressed under the current settlement.”

In relation to ‘signifiant progress’ on creating a Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) pilot site in Wales, he added:

“The application from South-East Wales Local Family Justice Board to run a pilot has been successful and planning for the pilot is now underway ahead of the FDAC commencing activity in the autumn.”

Legal News Wales will share further updates on the progression of the Law Council for Wales as they are announced.