Meet the Book Author: The Welsh Criminal Justice System: On the Jagged Edge

Robert Jones and Richard Wyn Jones, Cardiff University

n our Meet the Book Author Series, the Journal of Law and Society and the Centre of Law and Society provide first-hand accounts from authors who have recently contributed notable socio-legal books to their respective fields. In this post, we hear from Robert Jones and Richard Wyn Jones, who’s new book The Welsh Criminal Justice System: On the Jagged Edge was published in October 2022 with University of Wales Press.

What is the book about? 

For those who remember the relevant television advert, it’s very much a case of ‘doing what it says on the tin’. 

This book represents the first academic study of the distinct (cf. separate) Welsh criminal justice that has emerged as the inevitable if unintentional result of the devolution process. Even if Wales remains formally part of the England and Wales legal jurisdiction and criminal justice system – which under the terms of the devolution legislation are formally ‘reserved’ to the UK level – Wales’ devolved government nonetheless has important responsibilities with regards criminal justice institutions (including police and prisons) as well as being responsible for almost all the other areas of social policy on which those institutions rely (housing services, mental health services, etc.) This means that the Welsh criminal justice system operates across a ‘jagged edge’ of devolved and reserved responsibilities and powers. Jagged edge, because the delineation of those responsibilities and powers is far from straightforward. 

In the book we draw on interview data as well as official statistics to examine outcomes in Welsh criminal justice system; to explore how both the UK (acting in its England and Wales guise) and Welsh levels approach their responsibilities towards it; as well as to consider who (if anyone) is holding the system to account. Wales, it transpires, has some of the worst criminal justice outcomes in western Europe. Moreover, we argue that even if the will existed to try to address these problems, the current constitutional underpinnings of the Welsh criminal justice system make that nigh-on impossible.

Why did we write it?

There are two parts to this. 

First, we’d long wanted to write something together. We’ve been working with each other off and on for about a decade (since Richard started to supervise Rob’s PhD alongside our Cardiff colleague Kirsty Hudson). We’d also produced evidence for the Thomas Commission, namely the Welsh Government sponsored inquiry into the justice system in Wales chaired by the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord John Thomas, which reported in October 2019. It seemed to make sense to turn all of this into a book presenting our own analysis in as systematic a form as possible. We bring very different interests and knowledge-bases to the project – Rob is a criminologist by training while Richard is (some kind!) of political scientist. Our hope was that we could produce something in which the whole might be more than the sum of our disciplinary parts, and which might also speak to a multi-disciplinary audience as well as to a wider interested public.

But in addition, this is very much a ‘lockdown’ book! It was Covid that provided both the space and the impetus to turn our intention to write together into a reality. 

By about June 2020 – about three months, or so, into the pandemic – we’d both realised that life wasn’t going to return to anything approaching ‘normal’ any time soon. In a world in which life had been turned on its head, this was a project that we could give us a focus and a sense of purpose. So, we divided up the work, put our heads down, and wrote. The whole process made more sociable and enjoyable by regular Friday online writing retreats with other Wales Governance Centre colleagues as well as the occasional call. 

How did we go about doing this research?

Rob: I’ve been researching the operation of the Welsh criminal justice system for 12 years. This has involved interviewing those working in the system at pretty much all levels, as well as with those caught up in it. But in addition, I’ve been collecting official data throughout this period, often through Freedom of Information requests (the Ministry of Justice remains very reluctant to provide disaggregated data for Wales). All of this fed into the book.

Richard: The first thing to say is that I feel really privileged to be involved in a project which has been able to draw on Rob’s Herculean efforts to gather data on a subject that has been largely ignored by other scholars. I suppose that what I was able to bring to the project is knowledge about the operation of Welsh politics in the post-devolution era as well as experience of putting together ‘big’, sustained arguments over eighty or ninety thousand words.

Working together was really straightforward. The advantage of having different but complimentary skills and interests is that there was never any danger of treading on each other’s toes. Literally the only disagreement we had was about the first sentence of the Introduction – where we ended up with a score draw! Even if it’s a pretty depressing book in terms of what it reveals about our homeland, we actually had a lot of fun writing it.

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