Plans to devolve the justice system in Wales have been drawn up as the Welsh Government claims the current model is no longer working.
The Labour government in Cardiff warned the Westminster-run system is “pulling the shutters down” on access to justice.
A document published on Tuesday set out how a Welsh justice policy would work based on “prevention through tackling social challenges and rehabilitation, instead of a more punitive approach”.
We look forward to justice and policing being devolved to Wales so we can... deliver a better system for citizens, communities and businesses across WalesCounsel General Mick Antoniw
The proposals were welcomed by the four Welsh police and crime commissioners who agreed that handing over law and order powers would be the “logical next step in the devolution journey”.
The Welsh Conservatives said the Welsh Government ought to be focusing on devolved issues and the cost-of-living crisis rather than attempting a power grab, and accused First Minister Mark Drakeford of “pandering to his nationalist coalition partners” Plaid Cymru.
The report, Delivering Justice for Wales, argues the delivery of law and order would be more effective and fair if handled by the devolved nation.
It said the Welsh Government’s highest priority would be tackling male violence against women, and low conviction rates for rape and sexual assault.
Counsel General Mick Antoniw said: “The only sustainable way to improve the justice system is to reduce the number of people coming into contact with it.
“Our publication sets out the innovative ways in which we are using the powers we have, including early intervention to steer people away from the criminal justice system, and how we would seek to build on that through a fully devolved justice system.
“But the policies of successive UK governments since 2010 have firmly pulled the shutters down on access to justice, threatened fundamental rights and protections, and removed vital funding.
“We look forward to justice and policing being devolved to Wales so we can accelerate this work and deliver a better system for citizens, communities and businesses across Wales.”
Some of the actions the Welsh Government said it has already taken include an additional £22 million a year for 600 police community support officers, the creation of 13 remote court hearing facilities for victims of violence, a Family Drug and Alcohol Court pilot in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan, and investment in the Single Advice Fund which has helped 81,000 people gain additional income and manage their debts.
Future plans under current power constraints include considering the case for a Welsh Human Rights Bill, attempting to improve the legal sector landscape in rural and post-industrial areas, and creating an independent system of tribunals in Wales, as recommended by the December 2021 Law Commission report on devolved tribunals.
Wales’s social justice minister Jane Hutt said: “The clear conclusion of the independent Commission on Justice in 2019 was that policies and decisions about justice need to be determined and delivered in Wales, so they align with the distinct and developing social, health, social justice and education policy and services in Wales and the growing body of Welsh law.
“By joining up the justice system with the rest of Welsh policy-making we can find truly effective ways of reducing crime.”
Tory shadow counsel general Mark Isherwood said Labour ministers were “out of touch” and misrepresenting the UK Government’s policy agenda as well as the true cost of their proposals.
“While families face an increasing cost of living and Wales’s NHS is being run into the ground by successive Labour health ministers, the First Minister is, once again, pandering to his nationalist coalition partners,” Mr Isherwood said.
“Labour ministers in Cardiff Bay need to focus their attention on devolved issues rather than grab more power in Wales.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “It is our belief that a single jurisdiction is the most effective way to deliver justice across England and Wales, and the costs of creating separate jurisdictions would not be justifiable.
“We are continuing to work closely with the Welsh Government to deliver justice in Wales, including the joint work on supporting women and young people, and taking forward some of the recommendations of the Thomas Commission.”
In a joint statement Alun Michael, Dafydd Llywelyn, Andy Dunbobbin and Jeff Cuthbert, police and crime commissioners for South Wales Police, Dyfed-Powys Police, North Wales Police and Gwent Police, said: “It is our considered view that the way that policing and criminal justice in Wales has been delivered through the pandemic consolidates the case for devolution, in the best interest of the delivery of justice in Wales and of joined-up services to the public.”