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August 17, 2017

Welsh Government begins consultation on Interpretation Act for Wales

The Welsh Government has begun a consultation on whether Wales should have its own interpretation act for Welsh legislation. The purpose of interpretation acts is to provide definitions for commonly used words and terms, and provide standardised rules for construction. This therefore shortens legislation as you do not need to set this out in every piece of legislation that is drafted. The current rules for interpreting legislation applicable in England and Wales are set out in the Interpretation Act 1978.

The main problem with the current interpretation act in relation to Wales is that it is drafted in English only, and therefore does not take into account that any Acts or subordinate legislation produced by the National Assembly for Wales will be in English and Welsh. The 1978 Act has also not been translated into Welsh meaning that anyone trying to read legislation in Wales that is drafted in Welsh, may be forced to revert to an English language text for full understanding.

The Welsh Government has set out two options for reform and suggest that any reform could involve one, or a combination of both of these options. The first option is to amend the 1978 Act itself to address the absence of an interpretation provision in Welsh. The second would be to create a separate interpretation act for Wales. The Welsh Government believes this is an opportunity for a modern, accessible and bilingual act for Wales, although it will be necessary to reproduce many of the provisions of the 1978 Act.

Any interpretation act for Wales would only apply to Acts and subordinate legislation of the National Assembly. Therefore for any Acts of UK Parliament applying in Wales the 1978 Act will still apply. This could produce a situation where a piece of legislation may be subject to two different interpretation acts. The Welsh Government set out a number of potential solutions to this issue in the consultation including using explanatory notes or signpost provisions in legislation to make it clear which Act applies. It is also worth noting that Scotland and Ireland already have their own interpretation acts, and the Welsh Government state that they are not aware that this has caused any particular problems within these jurisdictions.

The Welsh Government is seeking views on the proposed changes by 11th September.

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