A comprehensive legal resource that will help countries strengthen existing laws and create new legislations was unveiled at a major ministerial conference today.
The Commonwealth Secretariat’s Legal Exchange – a knowledge portal that will support member countries by providing access to the laws of all 52 states - was launched by Secretary-General Patricia Scotland at the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in The Bahamas.
The website is one of a series of products from the Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform, which was launched by the Secretary-General in July.
Attorneys-General, ministers and senior officials welcomed the new initiative, with host Attorney-General Carl Bethel describing it as an example of how the Commonwealth continues to benefit The Bahamas.
“With the development of this new website, the Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform is providing us with the ability for real-time communication throughout the Commonwealth with our colleagues on critical issues,” he said.
“For example, there are some law reforms that I, in my mind, would love to be able to bring about. Some affecting, perhaps, the right to trial by jury in complex commercial matters, or in matters that could conveniently be handled by a judge alone. I know that South Africa has legislations to that effect, and I have no way of getting it without direct contact, However, with this website, I am able to access that portal, make contact in real time, and obtain the technical assistance.”
Aimed at supporting governments wishing to either revise existing laws or draft new legislation, the website contains a database of statutes and Commonwealth model laws which have been digitised, categorised and cross-referenced, making it easier for governments and law ministers to access and download.
The site also provides an online community of practice for government lawyers from across the Commonwealth, enabling countries to share information on current law reform initiatives.
Secretary-General Scotland said, “The Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform’s new portal is a one-stop shop for all the legal work that the Secretariat does.
“We know that legal knowledge gaps of some countries mean that governments can struggle to reform their laws in order to tackle issues such as violent crime. However, for the first time, model laws will now be available in one place on the Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform website. This will be an invaluable resource for law ministers, providing them with the necessary expertise and guidance.
“In addition to the model laws, Commonwealth countries can visit the OCCJR website and access legal knowledge products such as handbooks, guidelines and schemes in different legal areas.”
Alongside the website, two new practical guides were launched today. The first, The Commonwealth Legislative Drafting Manual, supports legislative drafters in preparing clear, concise and consistent laws.
The second, Changing the Law: A Practical Guide to Law Reform, is designed to provide practical assistance to those responsible for reforming existing legislation.
Head of the Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform Steven Malby said, “The Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform is an initiative of the Commonwealth Secretary-General that was launched earlier this year. The Office aims to support Commonwealth countries to build fair and effective legal frameworks.
“Countries can request assistance from the Office to reform laws in a range of different legal areas. The Office also offers a number of brand new handbooks which are there to assist officers of Attorneys General to make new laws.”
Find more information about the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting here.