“Accessing the law goes to the heart of the democratic process and the people of Wales's understanding of the work done here on their behalf” Theodore Huckle QC to the National Assembly for Wales, 4 October 2011.
Theodore Huckle QC, the Counsel General to the Welsh Government 1, made a statement to Welsh Assembly Members on Tuesday 4 October 2011 2. In this statement Mr Huckle outlined his views on the challenges of this next stage of devolution in Wales: to improve access to Welsh legislation; and in doing so to develop a Welsh Statute Book. These views don't appear to have been widely reported and are, in my opinion, deserving of further coverage.
Many legal practitioners in both Wales and England will be fully familiar with the difficulties of identifying the correct and pertinent legislation applicable in Wales. Mr Huckle notes that in education alone there are legislative provisions applicable for Wales in 21 Acts of Parliament and four Assembly Measures. Within the UK Acts the Welsh provisions can be difficult to locate, and may lie alongside provisions that have been repealed in England for many years. There is no freely available, up-to-date consolidation of Welsh (or for that matter English) primary legislation. Legislation.gov.uk, is an exciting and admirable service, but currently vital consolidation activities remain backlogged 3. Furthermore, there is currently no free public access for consolidated Welsh secondary legislation. Nor is there access to consolidated legislation in the Welsh language.
In tackling these issues Mr Huckle proposes to investigate the feasibility of:
- Moving towards a free-standing Welsh Legislation – a statute book for Wales. This long-term goal will mean taking opportunities within the Welsh legislative programme to develop Welsh Bills that not only address current legislative intentions, but simultaneously simplify and consolidate related legislation for Wales into Wales-only Acts.
- Establishing fast-track mechanisms to consolidate legislation, that will run in parallel to the main legislative programme. Such Consolidation Bills will serve to clarify and consolidate law in Wales rather than changing law, and will separate legislation that applies in Wales from English provisions. This will also provide accurate Welsh language versions of consolidated Welsh legislation.
- Moving towards a freely available fully consolidated primary and secondary legislation service for Wales, in both English and Welsh languages. Mr Huckle is investigating the feasibility of providing additional resourcing to enable http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ to fulfil this function.
- Creating a freely available online Encyclopaedia of Welsh Law, providing narrative, explanation and analysis to assist lawyers and non-lawyers. The existing framework of Wales Legislation Online will be investigated as a foundation for this service.
Mr Huckle will report back to Assembly Members on his findings and progress towards these goals in the coming Spring.
I welcome this statement. The Counsel General has provided clear indications of his ambitions to simultaneously address:
- the complexity of law in Wales;
- the current information deficits. Investigating routes to provide public access to up-to-date legislation for Wales in English, but also in Welsh ; and
- the growing need for sophisticated, accurate and up-to-date legal commentary for Wales. This highly specialised and comparatively small potential marketplace of legal information is unlikely to be viable to commercial publishers, and will therefore will require public support and funding.
If progress is made in these areas then this will form a strong foundation for supporting a flourishing democratic, administrative, civil, commercial and legal life in Wales.
1 Welsh Government. Cabinet and Ministers. Theodore Huckle. http://wales.gov.uk/about/cabinet/cabinetm/counselgeneral/ Last updated 13 May 2011. Accessed on 12 November 2011.
2 National Assembly for Wales. Counsel General's Statement: Access to Welsh Laws and Developing a Welsh Statute. The Record of Proceedings, 4 October 2011.
http://www.assemblywales.org/bus-home/bus-chamber-fourth-assembly-rop.htm?act=dis&id=223478&ds=10%2F2011#dat2 Accessed on 12 November 2011.
3 National Archives. Frequently asked questions: How up to date is the revised content on this website?How up to date is the revised content on this website? http://www.legislation.gov.uk/help#aboutRevDate Accessed on 12 November 2011.