Thursday, 22 November 2012

Welsh Assembly 1 Attorney General 0

So it was comprehensive victory for the Assembly  Government,in  a historic Supreme Court verdict over the validity of the first bill it produced.

The five justices sitting on the case, which was brought by the UK Attorney General Dominic Grieve, ruled unanimously that the Local Government Byelaws (Wales) Bill did not breach the Assembly’s law-making competence.

It was claimed that the Bill which was the first to be passed by the National Assembly – was referred to the Attorney General by the Wales Office, which had concerns that the Bill’s provisions removed confirmatory powers from UK ministers without its consent.

In the judgement, handed down by the Chief Justice Lord Neuberger, the justices said the removal of confirmatory powers was necessary for the Byelaws Bill to work.

It added: “The removal of the Secretary of State’s confirmatory powers by the Bill in relation to the scheduled enactments would be incidental to, and consequential on, this primary purpose.”

One of the streamlining and modernising purposes of the Bill would be undermined if the Secretary of State’s confirmatory function remained in respect of any of the scheduled enactments.
“There would be no point in removing the Welsh Ministers’ confirmatory function in relation to the scheduled enactments unless the Secretary of State’s concurrent function was also disposed of.
“Indeed, the notion that the Assembly would intend to remove the Welsh Ministers’ confirmatory function while retaining that of the Secretary of State is "bizarre.”
I must admit it was probably worth the expense and time of bringing the case to the Supreme Court as the ruling appears to be clear and that the Assembly can now make Laws that touch on the powers of Ministers other than the Welsh Secretary.

If the Assembly Government had lost the case then it would have been seriously restricted in its Law making powers. Particularly in those devolved areas which are still tied in some ways to departments  of the Westminster Government.

A London Health Minister may have argued that  laws by the Assembly aimed at Health reforms affected his or her department.and was therefore ilegal.

Or some individual or organisation   may revert to Law in order to argue that a Welsh Bil may be illegal on some minor constitutional ruling..

It does seem that the the first bill that the Assembly made law  The Official Languages Act which  faced a similar challenge because the billas it was then  dealt with both the devolved Welsh Language and the non-devolved English Language would have found the same ruling on the basis that to legislate o n Welsh Language equality was bound to affect English and to claim that the Welsh Government were prevented from affecting English was equally bizarre.

So it may be that this was a worthwhile move by the Welsh Office and  Attorney General though I would like to know Who picks up the bill?

But I very much doubt that any challenge was ever considered when the Scottish Parliament started way back in 1999 making laws on its own and it still looks like we need a greater understanding of devolution and what it means from Ministers in London.

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