Fatima Hameed writes on ‘Should criminal justice be devolved to Wales?’

Fatima Hameed is a Year 11 student in Aberdare Community School. Fatima, who is from Aberaman, has been on a work experience placement in my office. Here, Fatima writes for me on ‘Should criminal justice be devolved to Wales?’

The powers of the National Assembly of Wales have been increasing since voters approved of its creation in the referendum of 1997, and currently 21 policy areas are devolved to the National Assembly of Wales. This devolution has played an important role in helping the Assembly of Wales to progress from a secondary law making institute to a primary law making institute. However, other subject areas still remain retained to the UK Government, meaning that the Wales is not fully devolved. This brings forth my question, ‘Should criminal justice be devolved to Wales’?

As has been said regarding devolution, it is a process and not an event, meaning that although subject areas like criminal justice might not be devolved to Wales in the present, following meaningful consideration and research this could be the case in the future. However, the dilemma lies in the question whether this devolution would be beneficial to the Welsh citizens or not.

Firstly, it has been argued by many that the current unified criminal justice system of England and Wales is ineffective. Rates of self-harm, suicide and murder relating to offenders and their families are at an all-time high, with increasing cases of mental health issues. Suggesting that the current criminal justice system is failing in regard to the safe management of inmates in the system – it is failing the citizens of Wales that have to go through this system.

Furthermore, the fact that 47% of prisoners reoffend within a year under the combined justice system of England and Wales – a figure that tremendously exceeds the reoffending rates of the devolved criminal justice system of Scotland – implies that the system is yet again failing the citizens of Wales. The system isn’t delivering improvements on reducing reoffending, a reality that not only has negative implications on the lives of the offenders, but the families of the offenders as well as the future generations of Wales. This is a cycle that has to be stopped.

Adding to this is the issue of overcrowded prisons, which has led to discussions of building more prisons in Wales to accommodate the vast number of prisoners. This is an extreme situation, however, there is also another extreme on the other end of the spectrum. Whereas there is a shortage of prisons in Wales and England, there is a shortage of prisoners in countries like Holland, where many prisons have had to close down. This reflects upon the successful rehabilitation programmes that the criminal justice system of Holland has put in place for their citizens.

The devolution of justice was reserved by the Government of the UK in order to ‘protect’ the unified legal systems of England and Wales. Yet, it would be fair to say that the devolution of the other 21 policy areas has enabled the Welsh body of law to further diversify itself from the English body of law not only in content, application and in language but through other means as well. Wales has its own government, its own politics, legislation and its own laws. Hence, there is no more the same uniformity in the legal system of England and Wales as was created after the Laws in Wales Acts of 1535 and 1542.

Moreover, even if this is ignored, the fact remains that most of the services required to manage offenders and ex-offenders and to promote rehabilitation are devolved. As well as this, most of the services that support offenders in the community – like housing, health and social care – are also devolved to the Welsh Government even though criminal justice itself is non-devolved. This means that when significant policy decisions are made by the UK Government without effective engagement from the Welsh Government, although the solutions relating to criminal justice might be suitable for England this isn’t necessarily the case for Wales. Resulting in Wales facing severe repercussions. Implying that some policy approaches of the UK Government require full engagement from the Welsh Government even in devolved public services in order to avoid these situations. Suggesting that even if the devolution of the criminal justice to Wales is a far cry as of now, changes need to be made to the current unified criminal justice system that would not only keep in mind the needs of the English citizens but also the needs of the Welsh citizens. However, this is not to say that the devolution of the criminal justice is impossible in the near future.