APNU+AFC no show at the debate to amend Law Reform Commission Act

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Although some of its members were physically present at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre where a sitting of the National Assembly is ongoing, the Members of Parliament of the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition opposition were absent from the Chambers.

They were in effect sitting out the debate on amendments to the Law Reform Commission Act – an Act that was passed in 2016 by the then coalition government.

Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC, had brought the amendments to the House, promising a wider range of eligible candidates to be appointed.

On Thursday, during the presentations by government MPs and a lone opposition MP, Deputy Speaker Lenox Shuman, Nandlall upheld that reasoning.

He said since the Act was passed in 2016, no Commission had been appointed with well over $100 million expended.  Nandlall told the House that the staff were paid high salaries when compared to more qualified persons working at his Chambers.

As a consequence, Nandlall said while the government has retained the staff at the Law Reform Commission, it has terminated the previous contracts to allow for alteration to the salaries.

The Attorney-General told the House that the amendments, once passed, will see the appointment of persons other than lawyers, who are trained in finance, natural and social sciences, and law enforcement.

The amendments will also mandate that the private sector and other sections of society are consulted, and provide nominees for appointments. The current Act vests in the President the power to appoint the entire Commission, consulting only the minister, and only legally-trained persons are allowed to be part of the Commission.

That, the AG said, is fundamentally flawed, noting that a Law Reform Commission is much larger than the government of the day. The Attorney-General explained that law reform ensures that the country’s laws are updated at periodic intervals, and captures and embraces the aspirations, exigencies, social maladies and vicissitudes of the society as it evolves.

Currently, he said, Guyana’s law reform is done in a “piecemeal manner” where sections of the laws are reformed based on international obligations, and as a requirement to qualify for financing.

Nandlall noted that prior to 2015, he could not implement a Law Reform Commission since there was no law revision. The last law revision exercise was done 30 years before 2013, in 1978. An exercise to consolidate the legislation started in 2010 and was completed under Nandlall’s leadership.

The amendments were subsequently passed in the National Assembly in the absence of the APNU+AFC.

The Law Reform Commission is an advisory body to the State. It can recommend to Parliament amendments to existing laws, new legislation, and repeal existing legislation. The establishment of a Law Reform Commission is part of a fundamental component of the US$8 million Inter-American Development Bank-funded Support for the Criminal Justice System Programme.

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