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New Ministry To Focus On Legislative Agenda, Legal And Constitutional Reform

Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Hon. Marlene Malahoo Forte, says her Ministry will take charge of and give focused attention to the Government’s legislative agenda and its legal and constitutional reform aspirations.

Speaking in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (January 18), Mrs. Malahoo Forte noted that the creation of the Ministry could be regarded as the first serious attempt by any head of government, to revisit, holistically, the legal and constitutional infrastructure of the Jamaica nation state.

“The culmination of the rewrite of Chapter III of the Constitution of Jamaica, with the passage of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms over a decade ago, has been the closest we have come to any fundamental constitutional reform since Independence,” she said.

“That monumental achievement should have been followed by a comprehensive review of the Laws of Jamaica to make them compliant with the Charter, given its binding nature and the significant narrowing of the savings clause. Yet, this comprehensive review remains undone, leaving the legal architecture in an unsatisfactory state, even though some work on the 19th century laws on our books has commenced,” Mrs. Malahoo Forte argued.

She pointed out that the Law Revision Act provides for functions of law revision to be carried out by Statute Law Commissioners.

She noted, however, that the entire system will have to be completely revamped, starting with a re-conceptualisation of the enabling law and the role of the Statute Law Commissioners vis-à-vis the day-to-day tasks of law revision.

Meanwhile, Minister Malahoo Forte advised that the practice of rushing laws through to the Attorney General’s Department (AGD), the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel (OCPC), and the Legal Reform Department (LRD) as deadlines approach will be a thing of the past.

She said that all Ministries will be required to work within settled time frames, especially when matters are time-sensitive.

“The time frame required to, among other things, settle policy issues, answer questions, get approvals, prepare drafting instructions and the drafts themselves, will be set. It is simply intolerable for us to work without set timelines. No longer will instructing officers be allowed to put in the minimum having taken the maximum time and then create a crisis in the lawmaking process,” she said.

Mrs. Malahoo Forte noted that the OCPC, which is at the end of the production chain, is particularly impacted, as “sufficient time was not given [for the office] to produce the drafts”.

She said that each Ministry must now designate a responsible officer for sending instructions, who should be a legal officer working with the policy official.