Helping you understand Welsh law

Historical timeline of Welsh law

Hywel Dda (reign: 942 - 950)

  • It is during his reign and on his initiative that the extant native laws of Wales are traditionally said to have been reduced to writing. Hywel Dda came to be the ruler of a substantial part of Wales and it is said that the second part of his name (Dda/Good) derives from the fact that by the standard of the day his laws were considered just and good.
  • According to the surviving texts of the laws of Hywel Dda, Hywel summoned 6 men from every cantref within his kingdom to an Assembly ('Cynulliad') in Whitland. They examined the old laws, continued or amended some, abolished others and occasionally agreed on the introduction of new laws.
  • Blegywryd was an important authority of ancient Welsh laws who acted as secretary to the Assembly in its work of framing the laws.

Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf (Llywelyn the Last) (reign: 1246 - 1282)

  • Llywelyn was the last sovereign prince of Gwynedd (and self-titled Prince of Wales) before its conquest by King Edward I. The laws of Hywel Dda lost their primacy after this conquest.

Statute of Rhuddlan 1284
"The Divine Providence, which is unerring in its own government, among the gifts of its dispensation, wherewith it hath vouchsafed to distinguish us and our realm of England, hath now of its favour, wholly and entirely transferred under our proper dominion, the land of Wales, with its inhabitants, heretofore subject unto us, in feudal right, all obstacles whatsoever ceasing; and hath annexed and united the same unto the crown of the aforesaid realm, as a member of the same body."
This statute provided the constitutional basis for the government of the Principality of North Wales from 1284-1536, and later also the Principality of South Wales.

It introduced the English common law system to Wales, diminishing the position of the laws of Hywel Dda. 

Owain Glyn Dŵr (active: 1401 - 1416)

  • This Welsh ruler instigated a fierce and long-running revolt against the English rule of Wales, which was ultimately unsuccessful.

Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542 (commonly referred to as the Acts of Union)
(Long title: “An Acte for Laws & Justice to be ministred in Wales in like fourme as it is in this Realme”)
"...the dominion, principality, and country of Wales justly and righteously is and ever hath been incorporated, annexed, united, and subject to and under the imperial crown of this realm as a very member and joint of the same..." (Act for the Government of Wales, 1536)

  • The union of Wales and England was effected by two statutes passed during the reign of Henry VIII, jointly known as the Acts of Union.
  • These Acts insisted upon English as the official language of government, administration and the law within Wales.

Courts of Great Sessions (1543 – 1830)

  • The Courts of Great Sessions were established by the Laws in Wales Act 1542 and gave Wales a legal identity which was for the first time uniform while remaining distinct from England.
  • They were the main court for civil litigation and the prosecution of felonies and serious misdemeanours in Wales between 1543 and the court's abolition in 1830.
  • The separate legal identity which had existed until 1830 as a consequence of Wales being served by separate courts with distinct procedures had gone with the Great Sessions, partly explaining why they had come to be seen as an emblem of Welsh national identity.

Wales and Berwick Act 1746

  • This Act created a statutory definition of England as including England, Wales and Berwick-upon-Tweed, which led in part to the infamous Encyclopaedia Britannica entry “For Wales see England”

Sunday Closing Act 1881

  • Whether Parliament could legislate separately for a country which had no distinct legal system, law or judicature of its own was a difficult question.
  • The issue which was to break this deadlock and confirm the possibility of legislation which was particular to Wales was that of the Sunday opening of public houses.
  • The Sunday Closing (Wales) Act 1881 was the first piece of distinct Welsh legislation since the Commonwealth. It was the first Act since the union of England and Wales which specifically only applied to Wales.
  • The Act had significant political importance as a formal acknowledgement of the separate character of Wales, setting a precedent for further legislation and decisions.

Wales Intermediate Education Act 1889

  • This was the second major piece of distinctly Welsh legislation to be passed by Parliament.

Welsh Cemeteries Act 1908
Welsh Church Act 1914

  • This Act disestablished the Church of England within Wales and Monmouthshire. 

Welsh Courts Act 1942

  • This Act made Welsh a valid language in all legal proceedings.

(1964 - Office of Secretary of State for Wales created

Welsh Language Act 1967

  • This Act, based on the Hughes-Parry report into the status of the Welsh language, gave the right to use Welsh orally in the court proceedings in Wales.
  • It also repealed the provision in Part 3 of the Wales and Berwick Act 1746 that the term “England” should include Wales.
  • This Act gave the language equal validity but not equal status.

Welsh Language Act 1993

  • This Act established the principle that: 'in the course of public business and the administration of justice in Wales, the Welsh and English languages are to be treated on the basis of equality’.

Local Government (Wales) Act 1994

  • This Act created the current local government structure in Wales of 22 unitary authority areas and abolished the previous two tier structure of counties and districts.

Government of Wales Act 1998

Transport (Wales) Act 2006

  • This Act provided the National Assembly (as it then was) with additional powers in the field of transport which, together with its existing powers, was intended to enable it to develop a "safe, integrated, sustainable, efficient, and economic transport system serving Wales".

National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006

  • This Act consolidates provisions related to the National Health Service in Wales. 

Government of Wales Act 2006

Wales Act 2014

Wales Act 2017
(Note: There are of course numerous other "Welsh laws" which form part of other Acts of Parliament, this is a list of Acts which contain provision for Wales only.) 

Measures of the National Assembly for Wales (2007-2011)

Acts of the National Assembly for Wales (2011- )

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