MALAHOO FORTE... for anyone who has to use thelaws of Jamaica, it is like going through a maze toascertain the complete and accurate state
New minister of legal and constitutional affairs promises to fix 'chaos' in legislative process

NEWLY minted Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte says her ministry will take on the task of fixing the current “chaos” in the legislative process, which has, among other things, seen significant lag in the updating of the country's laws.

Outlining plans for the role of the ministry, in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the former Attorney General said even judges have erred by relying on outdated published laws. “For anyone who has to use the laws of Jamaica, it is like going through a maze to ascertain the complete and accurate state of the law on any given subject matter, so we must revisit how laws are actually revised,” she stressed.

She noted that currently the long title, the memoranda of objects, and transitional provisions in laws are not included in revised legislation, nor do they indicate which provisions have been repealed, “and the renumbering of sections and subsections is just out of whack. The work is clearly cut out for this new ministry”.The minister also warned that the practice of rushing laws through to the Attorney General's Department (AGD), the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel (OCPC), and the Legal Reform Department (LRD) as deadlines approach, will be a thing of the past.

“All ministries will be required to work within settled time frames, even and especially when matters are sensitive. The time frame required to, among other things, settle policy issues, answer questions, get approvals, prepare drafting instructions and the drafts themselves will be set. It is simply intolerable for us to work without set timelines. No longer will instructing officers be allowed to put in the minimum having taken the maximum time and then create a crisis in the law-making process, ” she stated.

She stressed that the OCPC is particularly affected by the current situation, as it is at the end of the legislative process, and ministries “meander” from the time of the annual throne speech to near the end of the legislative year, at which time they issue drafting instructions, “as if only to say instructions have been issues, then the impression is given that the matter has been with the OCPC forever, when the truth is that sufficient time was not given to produce the drafts”.

The minister said the LRD, AGD, and the OCPC have been struggling with its work over the years, and now the legal service units in all ministries, working with policy units, are to take on a more prominent role in law-making and reform.Malahoo Forte said the entire system of law revision needs revamping, including bringing the law commissioners who are provided for in statute, into the daily functions of law revision, starting with enabling legislation.

“Specific knowledge, skill sets, and competency levels are required to revise laws and the system must be designed and resourced to make it fit for purpose. We must reduce the time lag between enactment and inclusion in the revised laws of Jamaica to ensure that the information provided whether online or elsewhere is up to date and accurate,” she argued.

The ministry will establish, and have oversight for, the Government's legislative agenda, and legal and constitutional reform.She asserted that the new ministry is the most serious attempt by any Government to holistically revisit Jamaica's legal and constitutional infrastructure in 60 years ago, pointing out that the passage of the charter of fundamental rights and freedoms over 10 years ago – the closest any Government has come to constitutional reform since independence – should have been followed by a comprehensive review of the laws, to make them compliant with the charter given its binding nature.

BY ALPHEA SUMNERSenior staff reportersaundersa@jamaicaobserver.comNEWLY minted Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte says her ministry will take on the task of fixing the current “chaos” in the legislative process, which has, among other things, seen significant lag in the updating of the country's laws.Outlining plans for the role of the ministry, in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the former Attorney General said even judges have erred by relying on outdated published laws. “For anyone who has to use the laws of Jamaica, it is like going through a maze to ascertain the complete and accurate state of the law on any given subject matter, so we must revisit how laws are actually revised,” she stressed.She noted that currently the long title, the memoranda of objects, and transitional provisions in laws are not included in revised legislation, nor do they indicate which provisions have been repealed, “and the renumbering of sections and subsections is just out of whack. The work is clearly cut out for this new ministry”.The minister also warned that the practice of rushing laws through to the Attorney General's Department (AGD), the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel (OCPC), and the Legal Reform Department (LRD) as deadlines approach, will be a thing of the past.“All ministries will be required to work within settled time frames, even and especially when matters are sensitive. The time frame required to, among other things, settle policy issues, answer questions, get approvals, prepare drafting instructions and the drafts themselves will be set. It is simply intolerable for us to work without set timelines. No longer will instructing officers be allowed to put in the minimum having taken the maximum time and then create a crisis in the law-making process, ” she stated.She stressed that the OCPC is particularly affected by the current situation, as it is at the end of the legislative process, and ministries “meander” from the time of the annual throne speech to near the end of the legislative year, at which time they issue drafting instructions, “as if  only to say instructions have been issues, then the impression is given that the matter has been with the OCPC forever, when the truth is that sufficient time was not given to produce the drafts”.The minister said the LRD, AGD, and the OCPC have been struggling with its work over the years, and now the legal service units in all ministries, working with policy units, are to take on a more prominent role in law-making and reform.Malahoo Forte said the entire system of law revision needs revamping, including bringing the law commissioners who are provided for in statute, into the daily functions of law revision, starting with enabling legislation.“Specific knowledge, skill sets, and competency levels are required to revise laws and the system must be designed and resourced to make it fit for purpose. We must reduce the time lag between enactment and inclusion in the revised laws of Jamaica to ensure that the information provided whether online or elsewhere is up to date and accurate,” she argued.The ministry will establish, and have oversight for, the Government's legislative agenda, and legal and constitutional reform.She asserted that the new ministry is the most serious attempt by any Government to holistically revisit Jamaica's legal and constitutional infrastructure in 60 years ago, pointing out that the passage of the charter of fundamental rights and freedoms over 10 years ago – the closest any Government has come to constitutional reform since independence – should have been followed by a comprehensive review of the laws, to make them compliant with the charter given its binding nature.  

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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