- The Assembly now has the power to pass Assembly Bills which become law upon Her Majesty giving Royal Assent. Within its powers the Assembly may, by Act, do anything that an Act of the UK Parliament could do.
- Because England and Wales is a single legal jurisdiction the laws made by the Assembly or by the UK Parliament still form part of the law of England and Wales, even if they are only intended to apply in Wales.
- The position, in this respect, is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland because each of them is a separate legal jurisdiction. Therefore, for example, Acts of the Scottish Parliament only extend to Scotland and do not form part of the law of any other territory within the UK.
In March 2011, the people of Wales voted “yes” in a referendum on giving the National Assembly for Wales primary law making powers in twenty devolved policy areas.
Laws made in Wales, for Wales, still form part of the law of England and Wales. This is not the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland who have separate legal jurisdictions.
Since 1999, there has been an increasing divergence between Welsh law and the law in England - particularly in the fields of education, health and social care - to meet the specific needs of the people of Wales.
As a consequence of the referendum, there has been much discussion about whether or not Wales should also be a separate legal jurisdiction. In 2011, the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones made a speech to the Legal Wales Conference announcing the need for a public debate on the issue of a Separate Legal Jurisdiction for Wales.
Carwyn Jones said:
“The constitutional landscape in the United Kingdom has changed significantly since devolution of powers to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in 1999.
“Wales is an old country, but a young democracy. As First Minister, my overriding priority is to make devolution work so that we deliver our commitments to the people of Wales. The development of a legal system fit for a healthy and prosperous Wales is vital.
“The devolution of further powers to the Welsh Government and National Assembly will inevitably mean more distinct Welsh law applying in Wales in the future, which means the law that applies in Wales and the law that applies in England will become increasingly divergent.
“We now feel it essential that we have a public debate on whether or not Wales should be a separate legal jurisdiction, and the implications this could have for Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom.”
Wales’ Counsel General, Theodore Huckle QC said:
“Currently, all law passed for Wales, whether by the Assembly, Welsh Ministers, the Westminster Parliament or UK Government Ministers, becomes part of the law of England and Wales. This is because England and Wales share a single legal jurisdiction; and a single system of courts, judges and legal professions has grown up as a distinctive feature of that jurisdiction.
“We are clear that separate jurisdictions can exist within a United Kingdom – Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own jurisdictions separate from that of England and Wales. In this context, the time is now right to consider whether or not there should be a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales.”