Are there any legal provisions that apply only to England or only to Wales but not respectively to the other? Why are they so closely associated with each other as to have just one tag on the site, but Northern Ireland and Scotland each seem to be their own worlds?

  • To clarify, the assumption is that the reason they are one tag on our site is that it reflects their close association in reality. But the question is really of why they are so closely associated with one another in reality, not about the site Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 23:32
  • Related Meta questions discussing jurisdiction tags: Why have we 2 tags: England vs England and Wales? and Should the tag "united-kingdom" be removed, and replaced with its 4 countries?
    – user35069
    Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 5:57
  • Did you notice how different legal provisions applying only to England or Wales is from anything applying "respectively to the other"? That might work in law if it worked in English, but it doesn't. Sorry I don't remember the details yet I was greatly surprised about 15 years ago to be confronted with a scam specifically based on the "Law of Wales" in which that much really did seem genuine. What does your own research say of provisions applying only to England or Wales? Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 22:36

3 Answers 3


Whole chapters in books are written on this question.

Maurice Sunkin, Public Law Text Cases Materials (2019 4th edn), p 166.


England (a single territorial entity by 927 CE) and Wales (a principality) were created into a single realm in law by the Laws in Wales Acts 1535– 42. For some purposes, England and Wales are treated as a single entity. There is a single court and judicial system covering both of these parts of the United Kingdom— although even here there is some differentiation, because there are statutory rights about the use of the Welsh language in court proceedings that apply only to proceedings in Wales.5 For several years there has been discussion about whether Wales should be recognized as a legal jurisdiction separate from England, but turning this into a practical reality, even if feasible, is not high on the political agenda.6 For purposes other than the legal system, England and Wales are constitutionally distinct. Since 1998, there has been a directly elected National Assembly for Wales, with law- making and executive powers in relation to Wales only.

5 Welsh Language Act 1993.
6 See A. Trench, ‘A legal jurisdiction for Wales’, Devolution Matters blog, 5 October 2015, https:// devolutionmatters.wordpress.com.

Bradley, Ewing and Knight, Constitutional and Administrative Law (2022 18th edn). Pages 35-6. I bold faced the most germane sentences. You don't have to read the first para., but I quoted it just for completeness.

Historical development of the United Kingdom

1. Wales6

      While there is no need to summarise the lengthy history by which England became a single entity, it is worthwhile briefly to examine the historical formation of the United Kingdom. The military conquest of Wales by the English reached its culmination in 1282, when Prince Llywelyn was killed, and his principality passed by conquest to King Edward I of England. Thereafter the principality (which formed only part of what is now Wales) was administered in the name of the Prince, but the rest of Wales was subjected to rule by a variety of local princes and lords; at this period English law was not extended to Wales, where the local customs, laws and language prevailed. From 1471, a Council of Wales and the Marches brought Wales under closer rule from England, and the accession of the Tudors did much to complete the process of assimilation. In 1536, an Act of the English Parliament united Wales with England, establishing an administrative system on English lines, requiring the English language to be used, and granting Wales representation in the English Parliament.7 In 1543, a system of Welsh courts (the Courts of the Great Sessions) was established to apply the common law of England. The Council of Wales and the Marches was granted a statutory jurisdiction which it exercised until its abolition in 1689. In 1830, the Courts of the Great Sessions were replaced by two new circuits that operated as part of the English court system. After the union with England, Acts of Parliament applying exclusively to Wales were rare.8
      The mid-19th century saw the beginning of a political and educational revival and occasional Acts of Parliament applying only to Wales began again to be passed.9 In 1906 the Welsh Department of the Board of Education was established, the first central department created specifically to administer Welsh affairs.10 In 1914 the Welsh Church Act was passed, which disestablished and disendowed the Church of England in Wales. From time to time, the identity of Wales was recognised as new administrative arrangements were made.11 In 1964, the post of Secretary of State for Wales was established, and the Welsh Office emerged as a department of the UK government. Thereafter administration of Wales through the Welsh Office was to an extent based on the model of the Scottish Office.12 Wales and England share a common legal system,13 but some statutes make special provision for Wales. By the Welsh Language Act 1967, the Welsh language may be spoken in any legal proceedings within Wales, by any person who desires to use it; and Welsh versions of any official document or form may be used. The Welsh Language Act 1993 created the Welsh Language Board, to further the principle in Wales that public authorities and the courts should treat the English and Welsh languages on a basis of equality. The Board was replaced by the Welsh Language Commissioner as a result of the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, which maintained the general principle that Welsh is an official language of Wales, such that people have the right to speak and be spoken to in Welsh in all official contexts.

6 Kilbrandon Report, ch 5; and Andrews (ed.), Welsh Studies in Public Law, especially chs 2 (D Jenkins), 3 (H Carter) and 4 (I L Gowan).
7 27 Hen VIII, c 26. The Statute Law Revision Act 1948 called this the Laws in Wales Act 1535, but recent Welsh writers have called it the Act of Union of 1536: Welsh Studies, p 28.
8 See e.g. Welsh Bible and Prayer Book Act 1563: Welsh Studies, pp 38–9.
9 See e.g. Sunday Closing (Wales) Act 1881: Welsh Studies, p 48.
10 Welsh Studies, p 49.
11 E.g. creation of the Welsh Economic Planning Council in 1966.
12 See Welsh Studies, ch 4 (I L Gowan); and HLE, vol 8(2), pp 50–4.
13 See e.g. Constitutional Reform Act 2005, ss 7–9.

Simon Gardner and Emily MacKenzie, An Introduction to Land Law (2015 4th edn). I cannot remember the page number, but I reckon p 47 of 569? This is footnote 1.

1 Traditionally, ‘English and Welsh’, in that the two countries formed a single jurisdiction with a single set of rules; but devolution has created the possibility of divergence. To date, however, the rules in the area of ‘land law’ remain very largely common, so references to ‘English’ law may be read as very probably extending to Welsh law too. But for divergence, see eg Housing Act 1985 s 86, and Law Commission, Rhentu Cartrefi yng Nghymru/Renting Homes in Wales (Law Com No 337, London, 2013).


What Do England And Wales Share Legally?

Why are they so closely associated with each other as to have just one tag on the site, but Northern Ireland and Scotland each seem to be their own worlds?

Most laws of general applicability, such as criminal law, and private law (i.e. the law governing the interactions of private parties like property law, contract law, landlord-tenant law, employment law, etc.) are enacted by the National Parliament at Westminster (or effective as part of a shared English common law of case precedents) and shared by England and Wales which have a uniform integrated court system.

In contrast, Scotland and Northern Ireland have greater autonomy to enact laws of general application because more authority has been devolved to those regional governments than to the National Assembly of Wales. They also have their own court systems.

Historic Causes

Wales was basically fully integrated into England starting in the 1200s and subsequently restored some autonomy.

Scotland never lost its high level of autonomy and was initially joined to England only by virtue of having the same monarch, rather than being the same country. The United Kingdom was formed first by the personal union of monarchs from 1603 (under King James VI of Scotland a.k.a. King James I of England) followed by a federal style merger of governments approved by the Scottish and English parliaments in 1706-1707, rather than by conquest and it has much more government autonomy in generally applicable legislation and its judicial system than Wales does, and more than Ireland had when it was ruled by England. On the other hand, Scottish sentiment towards independence was not exactly unanimous in support of staying with the U.K. in the last referendum in 2014 when 44.7% of votes cast were for independence with 84.6% voter turnout (including voters as young as age 16).

Northern Ireland's story is a bit more complicated as Ireland had a legal status similar to Wales from a similar medieval era, but this was complicated by the Irish independence struggle ultimately leading to the creation of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The fine line and complexity of the situation in Northern Ireland is illustrated by this map, and strong autonomy was necessary to allow it to maintain the fragile Protestant-Roman Catholic balance in a divided society there:

enter image description here

Each of the components of the United Kingdom has a separate and historically determined status that is not exactly parallel to any of the others. England has no national assembly of its own, sufficing to use the national parliament for its laws despite the fact that some seats in that parliament that govern it are selected in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Likewise, before the U.S. gained independence, different parts of the U.S. had distinct relationships to the U.K., as did the various colonial possessions of the U.K. (e.g. India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Kenya, Tanzania, Hong Kong).

The U.K. is an exemplary example of the philosophy that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. To pluck out just one more random example of the English tendency, "Scotland Yard", the national police force headquarters in the City of Westminster within the City of Greater London in England, has jurisdiction over England and Wales, but not over Scotland.

Legal Distinctions Between England And Wales

To provide a few other examples in addition to the example of language related laws noted by @WeatherVane (noted on my recent visit to England and Wales) and to embellish on that point a little further, the Welsh language is resurgent in Wales where it is a mandatory subject in public schools (often in the North with Welsh as the primary language of instruction) with about 30% of the population (more than 800,000 people) who either speak it as a first language (which is common among the very old and among young people in Northern Wales) by people who are mostly bilingual with English (but may reach for an English word or two now and then) or as a fluent second language.

  • The Anglican Church is the established church in England, but not in Wales where it was disestablished in 1916. The legal implications of this are subtle, but not non-existent.

  • Government agencies are not required to hoist the British flag with primacy over the Welsh flag, and indeed, the British flag is rarely seen there.

  • Primary and secondary education are administered separately in England and Wales with attendant laws on issues like truancy, dress codes, financial arrangements, testing, and certain holidays. This distinction primarily exists to facilitate Welsh language instruction, which is the primary language of instruction in some schools, and a secondary language in others.

  • Tenancy law is now operated under an entirely separate framework under the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016

  • More generally, the manner in which many government services (e.g. public housing) is administered, and in which tax dollars are expended is not precisely the same between England and Wales.

  • Certain laws regulating immigrants (related to immigrant financial security and leases to immigrants, more or less) differ between England and Wales, although this is a temporary matter and the long term plan is for these laws to be integrated across the United Kingdom.

  • The Welsh Senedd (a.k.a. National Assembly for Wales, i.e. the regional parliament) has some independent legislative power, although honestly, the scope of its legislation is typically closer to what you might see in a U.S. home rule city or a school board, than in a U.S. state government. In particular:

The 20 areas of responsibility devolved to the National Assembly for Wales (and within which Welsh ministers exercise executive functions) are:

  • Agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development
  • Ancient monuments and historical buildings
  • Culture
  • Economic development
  • Education and training
  • Environment
  • Fire and rescue services and promotion of fire safety
  • Food
  • Health and social services
  • Highways and transport
  • Housing
  • Local government
  • National Assembly for Wales
  • Public administration
  • Social welfare
  • Sport and recreation
  • Tourism
  • Town and country planning
  • Water and flood defences
  • Welsh language
  • I suspect, but do not know, that land use regulation and occupational and business licensing in Wales is less favorable to big businesses and franchises, based upon the fact that such businesses are far more common in England than in Wales, even controlling for places that are similar in population density. But this could be due to historic or economic factors.
  • 2
    "Does Wales trend more Catholic than Anglican? " No. Wales trends to mainline protestant churches organized on a congregational level such as the Methodist churches and is know for fierce rivalry and antipathy towards other protestant denominations in a tyranny of small differences situation.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 23:34
  • 4
    @JosephP. The saying is that Scotland kept legal autonomy while losing cultural identity, while Wales did the opposite. The Welsh have a distaste for the English as an oppressed people that is very comparable in magnitude and character to that of the people of Irish Republic and were similarly oppressed but lacked the unity that the Roman Catholic Church provided to organize a resistance. The Scottish weren't similarly oppressed and perhaps didn't need to focus on cultural identity because this wasn't necessary to resist English domination.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 23:39
  • 9
    You use of Scotland Yard is a poor example - it’s not named for Scotland, it’s named for the address of its first HQ which was in Scotland Yard, Westminster.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 0:34
  • 2
    @JosephP. Wales is tightly integrated into England because in the 16th century (not 13th as stated in this answer) Henry VIII passed laws that integrated Wales into England unilaterally, the first of these laws being passed by a parliament that had no Welsh representation. By contrast, Scotland and England were unified through a negotiated merger that was effected by passing identical laws in the Scottish and English parliaments. One outcome of this negotiation was that Scotland retained its separate legal system.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 7:18
  • 3
    @JosephP. This answer is not altogether wrong to mention the 13th century, of course, as that is when Wales lost its independence to Edward I. Between the 13th and 16th centuries, however, Wales was not integrated into England despite being ruled of the king of England. Scotland, similarly, was in "personal union" with England for roughly a century before the Acts of Union united the two, but there was a difference: Wales was ruled by the English monarch because of conquest, whereas the English and Scottish thrones were unified through inheritance -- of the English throne by a Scottish king.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 22, 2022 at 7:55

Yes, the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 ensures Welsh remains as an official language in Wales.

This Law Wales page states

The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 (the Measure) modernised the existing legal framework regarding the use of the Welsh language in the delivery of public services.

It includes provision about the official status of the Welsh language and establishes the office of the Welsh Language Commissioner which replaced the Welsh Language Board.

The Commissioner’s principal aim is to promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language and, amongst other things, he or she is to work towards ensuring that the Welsh language is treated no less favourably than the English language. The Commissioner also has the power to investigate alleged interferences with individuals’ freedom to use Welsh in certain circumstances. The Commissioner is supported by an advisory panel.

The Measure makes provision for the development of standards of conduct relating to the Welsh language which will gradually replace the existing system of Welsh language schemes provided for by the Welsh Language Act 1993 (the 1993 Act).

Road signs are bilingual.

  • 1
    I said "yes" to the opening question of the post's narrative, which is the opposite phrasing of the title. The third question perhaps belongs on Meta. Commented Jun 21, 2022 at 23:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .