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Making the law in Wales more accessible 22 July 2015

Two initiatives have just been announced to make the law in Wales more accessible: a Welsh legislation website and a Law Commission consultation.

I lamented in my blog article “England and Wales: becoming increasingly different” on 11 February 2015 that it is extremely difficult to identify those areas where the law in Wales has diverged from the law in England.  It is difficult enough for lawyers in Wales, who are aware of the possibility (or sometimes the inevitability).  It is even more difficult for lawyers in England, who may not be aware of it, or may overlook it.

Clearly, important people read my blog articles (or possibly great minds think alike), as there have been two recent developments that aim to improve the position.

First, the Welsh Government, with the help of Westlaw, has developed a Welsh legislation website.

Law Wales

Cyfraith Cymru

This lists relevant legislation – both primary and secondary – in a number of areas in which the Welsh Government legislates, and provides links to the statutes or secondary legislation on the Government’s legislation website (www.legislation.gov.uk).

There are two minor criticisms.  First, I have noticed, on a quick inspection, that all the legislation is shown in English, even on the Welsh version of the website, and all the links to the secondary legislation are to the English version, even where there is a Welsh version.  No doubt that will be addressed in a future upgrade.  In the meantime, access to a PDF of the Welsh version is just one click away.

Secondly, people may not be aware that while primary legislation is updated on the Government’s website to reflect later amendments, secondary legislation is not.  Being directed to the original version of a statutory instrument is of relatively little use unless you are certain that it has not been amended subsequently.

But these are relatively minor quibbles (particularly for an English-speaking solicitor).   Only when the website is used in real research will it be clear whether or not it is helpful.  I will be interested in hear people’s views on this.  At the very least, it is a solution to the previously unanswerable question of where to start looking to see whether Welsh law has diverged from English law in any particular area.

Law Commission consultation

The other development is at an earlier stage but is potentially much more exciting. The Law Commission has just launched a consultation to consider “the form and accessibility of the law applicable to Wales”.  This is an advisory project, which will make recommendations to the Welsh Government.

The Law Commission points out that the law across the whole of the UK can be difficult for professionals and the public to find and understand.  In Wales, the process of devolution has made things even more complicated.

In particular, it can be very difficult to find and understand the law in devolved areas, as a result of changes to the powers of the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Government. There is often confusion over where responsibilities lie.  Functions under many Acts of Parliament have been transferred to the Welsh Ministers, but this will not be apparent in the original Act and it could appear that power continues to lie with the Secretary of State.  The picture is made more complicated by the pace at which significant areas of the law applicable in Wales – such as education, health and housing – are diverging from the law in England.

So the Law Commission is now consulting on how to make the existing law applicable in Wales easier to use and understand.  In the consultation paper, it considers:

  • whether the legislation should be consolidated or whether the Welsh Government should go further, and codify parts of the law;
  • what measures the National Assembly of Wales could put in place to ensure it has effective systems for making law;
  • what processes could be established within Government and the Assembly to allow policy and law-makers to take a more considered view of the law as a whole before making new legislation;
  • whether the Welsh language is embedded into the law-making process so that legislation made in Wales is truly bilingual; and
  • how legislation could be made more accessible to the public;  it considers the need for a free, up-to-date and comprehensive online resource, explanatory notes for legislation, Welsh law text books, and other guidance.

 

Interestingly, some of the issues that are raised are equally relevant to English law (and English/Welsh law, by which I mean the law that applies in both countries).  So it seems to me that for that reason, and also because English solicitors need to have access to the law in Wales, lawyers in England need to look at the consultation document and respond to it.  Don’t think it’s only of relevance to lawyers (and others) in Wales.

The consultation is open until 9 October 2015 – which seems a long way off, but will arrive only too soon.  The consultation papers (in England and Welsh), and summaries in both languages, are available on this page of the Law Commission’s website.

 

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