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Law reform agencies ‘set the pace for reform’

1 December 2017

Law reform agencies are vital in setting the pace for law reform and also challenging law makers. That was one of the key messages at the 2017 Annual Conference of the Association of Law Reform Agencies of Eastern and Southern Africa (ALRAESA), held in Nairobi, Kenya, with the theme Role of Law Reform Agencies in Emerging Democracies.

The Secretariat was represented by Segametsi Mothibatsela, Legal Adviser in the Rule of Law section, who was an official observer.

Chairperson of the Kenya Law Reform, Mr Mbage Nga’anga, described law reform bodies are ‘drivers of change’, a view echoed by other speakers. Professor Nga’anga made the point that law reform agencies set the pace for law reform and also challenge law makers.  

The Honourable Attorney General of Kenya, Professor Githu Muigai, opened the event by saying law reform agencies ‘challenge law makers and educate the masses’, and must be at the forefront of removing obsolete and irrelevant laws from the statute book.

He pointed out that a well-structured legal system should be responsive to people’s needs and that law reform agencies as bodies which set the pace for law reform are under an obligation to enhance their experience in order to better carry out their role of simplifying and modernising laws to address dynamic changes in society. 

The conference heard that law reform agencies should take into account the realities of the societies whose laws are being reformed and work with those societies to bring about the desired change. Adherence to the rule of law was consistently emphasised, as was the point that in emerging democracies, law reform solutions must follow a best fit, rather than best practice approach to dealing with each emerging democracy’s peculiar circumstances.

Honourable court of appeal judge Justice Kathurima M’Inoti and former Chairman of the Kenya Law Reform Commission also made the point that judges have a creative role in law reform as evidenced by some Constitutions in emerging democracies which give judges the ability to develop the law.

Similarly, in some law reform agencies within ALRESA, judges, as members of those law reform agencies, also play a law reforming role. He however stressed that both the separation of powers, and adherence to precedent kept their law reforming function in the narrow confines of adjudicating cases.

Copies of the recently launched Commonwealth’s law reform guide and legislative drafting manual were warmly received and acknowledged as tools that would greatly assist ALRAESA’S law reform practitioners in the important work they carry out, as was the information shared on the newly established Office of Civil and Criminal Justice Reform (OCCJR), and the Knowledge Management Portal which would deliver online access to legislation from around the Commonwealth as well as a community of practice.