The law is different in Wales. Not all of it, but in some important areas, the law in Wales is different to the law in England. In this blog, we look at why the law is different in Wales, and why it’s important to know this!

Why IS the law different in Wales?

In 1997, there was a referendum in Wales, which asked whether there should be a Welsh Assembly, or not.National Assembly

More people voted that there should be a Welsh Assembly than voted that there should not be one.

The National Assembly for Wales (the National Assembly) was created in 1999 after this vote.

The National Assembly can’t make laws about everything. The laws that it makes only apply to Wales, too – not the rest of the UK.

The UK Parliament still makes laws that apply in Wales, but the National Assembly can make laws about lots of things, including plenty of things that affect children and young people: education, health and social care are all ‘devolved matters’.

We’ve gone into a bit more about this at the end of the blog.

The Senedd in Cardiff Bay houses the National Assembly for Wales which makes law for Wales on devolved matters

The Senedd in Cardiff Bay – Home to the National Assembly for Wales

The impact of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the law in Wales

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an international agreement about the rights every child (everyone under the age of 18) can expect as they are growing up. The UK signed the agreement in 1991, but the UK has not ‘incorporated’ it into UK law.

In Wales, the UNCRC has been incorporated into law. As early as 2004, the Welsh Government decided that it would use the UNCRC when it was looking at policies that affected children and young people.

In 2011 the National Assembly passed a law called the Rights of Children and Young Person’s (Wales) Measure. This is often just called ‘the Measure’. This is an important law which introduces something called the ‘due regard’ duty. Ministers in the Welsh Government have to think about the rights of children when they are developing any laws or when they are reviewing laws. Whenever the Welsh Government passes a proposal for a law to the National Assembly for Wales, it has to include a Child Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA). The CRIA will explain whether the new law will affect the rights of children, and in what ways. This applies to every law passed by the National Assembly – even if it doesn’t obviously seem to impact on children.

Why do I need to know that the law is different in Wales?

So what if the law is different in Wales? Why does it matter?

Lots of the problems we face in life can be sorted out without looking at the law, but the law does affect most of our lives, even if we don’t know about it.

If you have a problem that you can’t sort out yourself or by talking to the people involved, you might need to understand what the law is. Knowing that the law might be different in Wales means you are more likely to get to the right answer about the problem that you are dealing with.

Some areas where the law is different in Wales have been in the news recently:

  • The National Assembly has recently passed a law to say that 16 and 17 year olds in Wales can vote in National Assembly elections and local elections in Wales. 16 and 17 year olds cannot vote in any elections in England.
  • In Wales, the law says that you can leave school at the end of June in the school year when you are 16, and you don’t have to stay in education or training. In England, you have to stay in education or training (although not necessarily at school) until you are at least 18.
  • The law on ‘smacking’ is about to become different. The National Assembly is currently considering a law that means that parents will no longer be able to smack their children. There are no plans to change the law in England.

These are just a few of the ways that the law is different, but there are lots more, and they could make a big difference to you.

The fact the National Assembly and the Welsh Government have to think about children’s rights when they make or review the law in Wales also means that the law can be different in Wales.

How do I find out if I need to look at Welsh Law or UK law?

To start with, it’s worth knowing which areas of life the National Assembly can make laws about. There are 20 areas specifically given to Wales. These are mostly ‘local’ matters and include

  • education and training,
  • health services,
  • housing,
  • social welfare,
  • most planning matters and water supplies
  • agriculture,
  • fisheries,
  • forestry,
  • culture, including the Welsh language
  • economic development and
  • the environment.

How can I make sure I’m looking at the right law?

If you need to know what the law is about something, the first thing to check is whether it’s something that might be covered by the 20 areas that are ‘devolved’ to Wales. If you’re searching on the internet, it’s worth adding ‘in Wales’ to your searches, and check if the websites you visit are talking about the law in Wales, or the law in England.

Our website is a good starting point to find out about the law in Wales. We’ve created a section called How the Law Affects Me, broken down into different areas of life where you might have questions about the law.

If you’ve got a question about the law, and you can’t find the answer on the website, you can email us . We can’t give advice on individual issues, but we can provide information about the law in Wales, and how it might affect you.