Commonwealth citizens are set to benefit from improved legal services in a range of areas as law ministers ended their meeting in The Bahamas with a package of agreements and pledges.
Tackling terrorism, addressing climate change, responding to natural disasters, meeting sustainable development goals and eradicating early and forced marriage were all on the wide-ranging agenda.
After three days of deliberations, ministers pledged to pursue key law reforms in a number of areas.
“This was a critical moment for the Commonwealth for so many reasons,” said Secretary-General Patricia Scotland. “Dominica and Barbuda are still in ruins after devastating hurricanes Irma and Maria, and millions of people in Asia and Africa are still suffering the after-effects of mudslides, floods and desertification.
“Countries at the table are also dealing with a frightening escalation of violent and virtual crime, the impact of global terrorism and violent extremism, and with young girls being taken out of school and forced into marriage. These are just some of the challenges facing the nations represented at our meeting, and I am so proud of the diligence, commitment and resolutions of law ministers to find solutions to these issues.”
Ministers and attorneys-general agreed to review and strengthen legal frameworks and legislation to prevent the grooming and recruitment of terrorists and to stop them crossing borders and being funded. They discussed how to make this aspiration a reality and recognised the importance of community involvement.
Delegates also focused on law reforms to help their countries achieve targets to lower global temperatures and to support the smooth operation of relief efforts during and after natural disasters. They discussed how they will work, as legal advisers to government, to develop legal frameworks to improve health, education, employment, financial and other critical services relevant to the achievement of their sustainable development goals.
“There were many aspirations expressed at this meeting and to ensure that we are able to turn them into action, the Secretariat offered ministers a number of tools and support mechanisms,” said the Secretary-General.
“Our new legislative drafting handbook and guide to law reform will take legal drafters and those responsible for law reform through a step by step, stage by stage guide to create or amend laws in any of the areas discussed. These are going to help all our countries, but will be particularly valuable to developing and smaller nations with limited resources.”
She continued, “The theme of the meeting was Strengthening the Rule of Law through Technology, so we offered all ministers access to our Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform, which provides technical assistance and an online platform with best practice guides, model laws, standards, templates and legal insight on a range of issues.”
The Secretariat also presented a new secure messaging mobile app which will be trialled in 2018. This app will enhance international cooperation by helping countries to collaborate to tackle cross-border and organised crime.
Delegates underscored the importance of these meetings as a forum for sharing best practice, one of the Commonwealth’s greatest advantages. Marlene Malahoo Forte, Attorney General of Jamaica, said this year’s summit provided an opportunity for vibrant discussion and collaboration on key issues.
Anisul Huq, Minister for Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs in Bangladesh, said “The issues that have been taken up in this conference are very pertinent to us and it is important that we come here, we share our experiences and we exchange ideas to improve on these issues.”
Samoa’s Minister of Justice & Courts Administration, Faaolesa Katopau Ainu’u, praised the Commonwealth Secretariat for preparing a strong agenda.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Law & Justice & Electronics & Information Technology in India, said, “This is an occasion to share the best practices, the smaller countries, the big countries. In that way this interaction is very very meaningful, very very purposive. We make good friends, many of the problems are similar in many ways, the solutions can be similar.”
The Bahamas’ Attorney General, Carl Bethel, who hosted the event, described the summit as a very important forum for law ministers across the Commonwealth, "to come together to share best practices and consider our responses, both as a commonwealth and as individual countries to shared challenges.”