Writing the laws of the land
Author: Yvonne Chin
Article Date: 13 Nov 2007
Courses organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat address the shortage of legislative drafters in member states
New laws are introduced to strengthen democracies. Without these new laws being written, governments often remain static and unable to develop their policies and agendas.
Many countries in the Commonwealth do not have a sufficient number of lawyers who can effectively draft legislation. This is because much of the work involved in drafting laws requires highly skilled and specialised lawyers.
With this in mind, ministers and senior officials at the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in St Vincent and the Grenadines in 2002 asked the Commonwealth Secretariat to set up programmes to enhance the ability of legislative drafters in member states.
Following this mandate, a curriculum for a 12-week course was developed under the auspices of the Secretariat.
"These courses are intended to minimise periods of absence from drafting offices while the specialist attorneys are trained," said Katalaina Sapolu, Adviser and Head of the Justice Section of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Division at the Secretariat.
In January 2006 and July 2007 two courses were held in Ghana, which were attended by over 50 lawyers from at least 15 African countries.
"Writing laws is at the centre of a strong democratic government and legislative drafting is a very specialised area of law for which specific training is required," said Estelle Appiah, Director of Legislative Drafting at the Attorney-General's Department of the Ministry of Justice in Ghana, which hosted the training courses.
In the Pacific, the Secretariat is currently working with the University of South Pacific and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) regarding the shortage of trained drafters in the region.
"The ultimate goal is to provide sufficient legislative drafting to meet the needs of a country," explains Tony Lawson, Head of the Law Drafting Unit at the PIFS.
This partnership is addressing legislative drafting by dealing with recruitment, training, support and retention. The framework they developed aims to give countries the ability to meet their own drafting needs efficiently and maintain this ability over time, thus improving their self reliance in this area of law.
Mr Lawson also noted that solutions may vary depending on the country. Within the Pacific, Papua New Guinea's legislative drafting needs are not the same as Tuvalu's because of the contrast in their populations.
In September 2007 senior legal draftsmen met in St George's, Grenada, to review the drafting course which took place at the University of Guyana between January and March earlier in the year for lawyers in the Caribbean.
At the meeting they explored strategies to attract and retain more lawyers in the region. Representatives from the Caribbean Heads of Legal Drafting Offices, CARICOM, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, the Universities of the West Indies and Guyana and Commonwealth Secretariat were present.
Justice Duke Pollard, former Director of the CARICOM Legal Drafting Facility and Chairman of the meeting, argued that the introduction of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy has resulted in an even greater need for legislative drafters in the region.
"One conservative estimate is that we need at least 400 laws and procedures to implement the revised treaty. This is a crucial time for the region and we need competent legislative drafters if we are to move forward," Justice Pollard explained.
Many Caribbean countries trying to cope with the introduction of the Single Market have been without a specialist legislative drafter since 1980.
Consequently, as part of the Commonwealth's efforts to address the lack of drafters, a number of experts were sent to Grenada in 2005. Petrona Sealey-Browne was a Commonwealth expert who set up a legislative drafting unit and acted as a mentor for two young lawyers.
One of these lawyers is Christine Bowen, who attended the training course developed by the Secretariat that was held in Guyana.
Mrs Sealey-Browne said: "When Christine was [first] brought to me I knew she didn't want to draft. [But] Christine went to the course and came back excited. She's developing the knack for it…She's going to make a good legislative drafter."
Having attended this training course, Ms Bowen and other lawyers have developed the necessary skills to write legislation.
This and other training courses taking place across the Commonwealth will continue to work towards giving lawyers the required skills to draft legislation effectively. Their enhanced skills will result in an increase in the number of new laws that are written, thereby strengthening democracy and the rule of law across the 53 member states.