New Law Reform Commission prioritises law revision

--clarifies its role on restructuring

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By Kurt Campbell

[email protected]

Chairman of the two-month-old Law Reform Commission Justice Beasraj Singh (BS) Roy believes more time is needed before the Commission can safely take up its key role of helping the government with its law reform responsibilities.

In his first interview since being sworn in by President Irfaan Ali on August 11, 2021, the retired Justice of Appeal told the News Room on Wednesday that even before taking up the post, the work of the Commission had already been measured.

He pointed out that with a Law Revision Act in place since 1972, there is a need to correct mistakes that have crept into the 18 purple volumes of the Laws of Guyana. With many of those mistakes being grammatically and typographical, Justice Roy also noted that there has not been any substantial revision done since 2012 which would also necessitate addressing the gap and updating all the laws passed by Parliament during that period.

“The whole process of law revision is paramount… that is our priority,” he told the News Room.

Justice Roy, however, could not say when that process of revision would start as the seven-member Commission is currently ironing out its methodology. That further puts off its involvement in an exercise linked directly to law reform.

The Commission, as an advisory body to the State, can recommend to the government amendments to existing laws, new legislation and the repeal of existing legislation.

In so doing, it can accept recommendations from the public but this is still a far way off since the new Commission is still addressing start-up challenges like getting a website and email set up and properly manned.

“It is quite a difficult task to say at this time whether we can safely accommodate a request from the member of the public to look at a piece of legislation that in his or her view may need modification or harmonisation.

“My understanding is that law reform generally starts with an idea from the Office of the Minister for Legal Affairs and the Chambers of the Attorney General,” Justice Roy explained.

Justice Roy advised members of the public to continue to channel their concerns through the Attorney General Chambers.  Asked about the role of the Commission on issues like corporal punishment, electoral reform, the death penalty and same-sex intimacy, Justice Roy said he awaits guidance from the Attorney General.

Apart from its focus on first aid in law revision, Justice Roy said, “there is nothing to stop the Commission as a body from recommending to the AG that this is an area that perhaps he may wish us to consider.”

In 2016, the previous APNU+AFC government passed the Law Reform Commission Act which allowed for the setting up of the Law Reform Commission – an excellent piece of legislation, as Justice Roy described it.

Soon after, private premises were rented, staff were hired, equipment was bought but nothing tangible was achieved by Commission as was contemplated by the Parliament in 2016.

There was a period of dormancy with no Chairman or Commissioners appointed but in 2021, an amendment to the act expanded the areas from which the government can draw membership to the Commission.

With the appointment of Commissioners on August 11, 2021, the Commission has had five meetings since.

“If success can be measured by the number of items on our agenda, then one can conclude that yes we are going places,” Justice Roy noted.

Importantly, Justice Roy along with Commissioners Teni Housty, Clarissa Riehl, Brian O’ Toole, Emily Dodson, Roopnarine Satram and Deenawatie Panday are now clarifying the jurisdiction of the Commission in accordance with the law – a thorough and time-consuming exercise.

Also high on the agenda is the acquisition of books. “At the moment we have nothing, save and except a donation of the green volume of the Laws of Guyana.”

The Commission will soon benefit from a donation of the purple volume of the Laws of Guyana and is also engaging booksellers locally, regionally and internationally.

There is work ongoing to finalise the Charter/Code of Ethics for members, a document similar to what exists for the Integrity Commission.

“We have to govern ourselves as it were. So it is a type of internal self-government where rules and regulations are going to be laid out for all members of the Commission.”

Justice Roy assured that the Commission is adequately staffed and manageable. He said his motto right now is “achieve more with less.”

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