An independent review investigating a complaint against the Welsh Language Commissioner has concluded that the Commissioner, Aled Roberts, is acting within the law and in accordance with the organisation’s Enforcement Policy. It also concluded that he was acting in a transparent manner and that Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg’s complaint was unfounded.
The report confirmed that it was a matter within the discretion of the Commissioner as to which options to take when there was a failure to comply and that he had not introduced new pre-investigation practices. It also concluded that the number of investigations carried out by the Commissioner was not low.
The independent review was conducted by Rhianwen Roberts who was appointed following a complaint by Cymdeithas yr Iaith. They claimed that the Commissioner had introduced new pre-investigation practices, which meant that he was opening fewer investigations. They claimed that this was contrary to the Welsh Language Measure, ambiguous and contrary to the Commissioner's Enforcement Policy.
They also complained that the Commissioner was not using civil penalties and claimed that the Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language, Eluned Morgan AM, had influenced the Commission’s actions.
The author states within her report, “In my view, it is not helpful, under current legislation, to focus on a term such as 'early resolution'; rather, it is the power of the Commissioner to exercise his discretion and functions within the Measure, which has been interpreted by the Tribunal in previous cases.
"What that means is that the Commissioner has the right to use his discretion when deciding whether to open an investigation. It is also a matter of discretion for the Commissioner which option(s) to take when there is a failure to comply with a relevant requirement, and whether or not to impose a civil penalty.”
When considering the number of cases opened, the independent review’s author also referred to the fact that the number of investigations in 2018 was unusually high, making the 2019 figures appear low. She said, " The evidence suggests that the number of investigations in 2018 was high (and to a lesser extent, in 2017), not that the number of investigations opened in 2019 was low.."
The report concluded that Cymdeithas yr Iaith's Grŵp Hawl (Rights Group) does not fully understand the provision of the law in the Welsh Language Measure. She states, "Without this understanding, it appears to me from the Tribunal's decisions that conducting disproportionate investigations increases the risk of constraining the Commissioner and his office from operating effectively and efficiently in the promotion and facilitation the use of the Welsh language."
Two recommendations were made in the report, one to the Commissioner and one to Cymdeithas yr Iaith. The review recommended that the Commissioner should publish a summary of the Tribunal's guidance on the website, providing examples of factors that may be appropriate for the Commissioner to consider when deciding whether to open an investigation.
Welsh Language Commissioner, Aled Roberts added, "I welcome the independent review, which has concluded that I am acting appropriately.
“I have already taken on board the recommendation directed towards myself and with regard to the complaint itself, I will be meeting with Cymdeithas yr Iaith to discuss the report in full over the coming weeks.
“I am eager that we now focus our efforts to ensure that the rights of individuals to use the Welsh language are upheld and to reinforce the public’s confidence in my role. I shall investigate failures when it is reasonable and proportionate to do so. ”