The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones welcomed the judgment, describing it as “confirmation that the Welsh Government was right.”
The Bill was the first to be passed by the National Assembly for Wales under its new primary legislative powers, granted by the people of Wales following last year’s historic referendum.
The Attorney General for England and Wales, The Rt. Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP referred the Local Government Byelaws (Wales) Bill to the Supreme Court to seek a determination on whether sections that remove the concurrent functions of both Welsh Ministers and the Secretary of State to confirm byelaws were within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales.
The referral temporarily blocked the Bill from receiving Royal Assent and therefore becoming law.
Five Supreme Court Justices – including its President, Lord Neuberger and the Deputy President, Lord Hope – all agree the Bill is within the legislative competence of the National Assembly.
In their judgment, the Justices say:
- “Section 6 of the Bill plainly is intended to have the effect of removing the need for confirmation by the Welsh Ministers of any byelaw made under the scheduled enactments. That is a primary purpose of the Bill, as is clear from reading the provisions quoted above, both in itself and for the purpose of streamlining and modernising the making of byelaws.”
- “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.”
Following today’s judgment, the Bill will be submitted to Her Majesty the Queen for Royal Assent.
Carwyn Jones said:
“I’m very pleased the Supreme Court has ruled in our favour in this case. Their judgment is confirmation that the Welsh Government's position was right.
“As part of our evidence to the Silk commission, we will be making a strong case for the Welsh devolution settlement to be reconstituted on a reserved powers basis. This would have the benefit of reducing the differences between the UK devolution settlements, and ensure that we are considerably less likely to have to appear before the Supreme Court in future.
“I now look forward to continuing to deliver the Welsh Government’s ambitious legislative programme, which will help improve public services and create opportunities for everyone in Wales.”
The Counsel General for Wales, Theo Huckle QC appeared before the Supreme Court on behalf of the Welsh Government.
Mr Huckle said:
“From the outset we were clear that the Bill’s primary purpose was to provide a new local procedure for local authorities in Wales to make byelaws for their areas. The requirement for approval of those byelaws by the Welsh Government or UK Government was, therefore, no longer appropriate. We have always been of the view that removal of that requirement for approval is incidental to, or consequential on that new procedure and is therefore within the competence of the National Assembly.
“The Supreme Court has in a unanimous judgment agreed with our view for a number of reasons – and I am obviously pleased that they have done so. This establishes an important principle relating to the devolution settlement and justifies our stance in refusing to accept that the Secretary of State should continue to have a role in this local matter.”
Mr Huckle added:
“I would like to pay tribute to the careful analysis undertaken by my team of Welsh Government lawyers and the support I enjoyed from them and from Clive Lewis QC, the Welsh Government’s First Counsel, in preparation for and during the hearing. Wales is extremely fortunate to have at its service this exceptionally talented group of public lawyers, and I am indebted to them.”