This issue has sprung to life recently. By and large, most of us aren’t that preoccupied with constitutional affairs. It’s why there was such a low turn-out in the referendum on Part IV of the Governance of Wales Act (the one that vested certain law-making powers at the National Assembly for Wales). That’s right, the 2011 referendum the omniscient Peter Hain said couldn’t be won under “any [foreseeable] circumstances“.
So when people are asked by polling companies whether or not they would like to see criminal justice devolved to Wales, you’d hardly expect them to be gripped by fevered enthusiasm. For starters, I’m not sure I understand what’s encompassed by criminal justice, and I’m something of an anorak. Just how detailed Dai Jones Cwmbach’s knowledge of criminal justice is we can only speculate.
So it’s not a terrific surprise to see that in one of the only comprehensive polls asking the question, just 37% of people in Wales would like to see “the courts and criminal justice system” devolved.
But that may be about to change.
Because it turns out that on occasion the Home Office has decided that Wales is a good place to rehouse criminals convicted of serious offences. Criminals with no former connection to Wales, that is.
I was first alerted to this issue by Paul Flynn, who has written to the Home Secretary to complain following the news that a London gang leader at “serious risk of reoffending” has been rehoused in Newport.
And just days later, WelshNotBritish, in a blogpost titled with characteristic finesse, has uncovered the news that Gavin Benit, a convicted sex offender from Oldham, was “placed” in a flat in Colwyn Bay.
I mentioned earlier on that “on occasion” the Home Office has rehoused serious offenders in Wales. We can be reasonably confident that those occasions number no less than two.
But is there something more systemic going on here? Is the Home Office rehousing serious offenders in Wales as a matter of course? And is this one of the benefits of our criminal justice remaining a reserved matter? After all, Cheryl Gillan as Secretary of State for Wales stated:
I understand that the Welsh Government is planning a consultation on the establishment of a single legal jurisdiction for Wales. But why?
“What is the problem that needs addressing? How would such a change benefit people or business in Wales?
“The pitfalls of a separate legal jurisdiction for Wales, and consequent devolution of the entire criminal justice system, are glaringly obvious. I see no case for changing the current system for England and Wales, which has served Wales well for centuries.
Perhaps those opposing the devolution of criminal justice to Wales, such as Cheryl Gillan, would like to speak to the 15-year old girl raped by Gavin Benit to find out just how such a change would “benefit people or business in Wales”.
It’s why constitutional affairs should bother everyone in Wales, even Dai Jones Cwmbach.