WITH Guyana poised to be radically transformed, the consequence of a rigorous and intensive developmental agenda by government, supported by the country’s newest discovered natural resource, light, sweet crude, it is important that the country’s legal and institutional architecture be revamped in alignment with the developmental aspirations.
These were the sentiments shared by President, Dr. Irfaan Ali during his address to the nation and press conference held to commemorate the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) first anniversary back in government on August 2, 2021.
“The new, modern Guyana we envision will be one that has a world class legal and institutional architecture. This will involve overhauling many of our laws and regulations to make them more relevant to the realities of the Guyana of the future,” Ali said.
Ali announced that some key initiatives undertaken to fuel the transformation of the legal sector will be spearheaded by the newly-constituted Law Reform Commission which is being headed by Retired Justice of Appeal B. S. Roy, the Chairman of the Commission.
A Law Reform Commission is an instrumental body in any society, as it ensures that the legal system does not remain stagnant. It keeps the law under constant revision, and makes recommendations to Parliament for the repeal, creation, consolidation and codification of the laws; the new body is expected to pave the way for incremental legislative amendments.
The commission was constituted after significant amendments to the Law Reform Act 2016 were recently approved in the National Assembly; specifically, amendments to allow for persons who hold a variety of qualifications to sit on the commission.
Section 4(1) (b) of the Act requires that the Minister of Legal Affairs consults with the organisations that appear to represent the legal profession, organisations such as the private sector; the trade union movement; the entities representing the interest of consumers’ affairs; the religious community; the Rights Commissions; and the National Toshaos’ Council for the appointment of members of the commission.
DIVERSITY AND INCLUSIVITY
The amendment of the Act caters for that diversity and inclusivity to be reflected as part of the Commission, as it will allow for the commission to comprise persons who have a legal background, as well as persons who have at least 10 years of experience in the areas of banking, industry, economics or commerce, social or natural sciences, and law enforcement.
The members of the commission are Vice-president of the Guyana Bar Association, Teni Housty; former High Commissioner for Guyana to Canada, Clarissa Riehl; Veteran educator and proprietor of Nations Incorporated, Dr. Brian O’Toole; and attorneys-at-law Emily Dodson, Roopnarine Satram, and Deenawatie Panday.
The establishment of a Law Reform Commission is part of a fundamental component of the US$8 million Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)-funded Support for the Justice System Programme. The statement from the Attorney-General’s chambers noted that the IDB will fund the functioning of the commission for a specified period, after which the government is expected to take over.
The President announced that other reforms will be driven by sector specific reviews of the legal frameworks while others will be of a more cross-cutting nature. He mentioned specifically an electronic environment conducive to facilitating transactions.
“For example, the use of electronic transactions, and electronic means of settling transactions, will unavoidably become a reality in tomorrow’s Guyana. So, your government will ensure the relevant legal frameworks are in place,” he said.
Recently, Director of Business and Entrepreneur Development attached to the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, John Edghill, told the Guyana Chronicle of an e-Commerce Bill that the ministry is working on to encourage more electronic use in commerce and having all the online market places being regularised.
Edghill had highlighted that currently, entrepreneurs are prevented from accepting payments online as the country lacks the requisite legislation, unless they have a United States account or are using methods provided by third parties. Further, online markets are not regularised and conduct business in a lackadaisical manner.
“Our institutions will also be strengthened, including for the purpose of ensuring accountable and transparent stewardship of our national patrimony,” Ali said as he highlighted reforms will be made to “ensure a modern legal framework is in place to ensure openness and transparency”.
In addition to these measures, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, S.C., has embarked on a rigorous agenda to transform Guyana’s archaic legal sector through overruling outdated legislation and crafting a modern legal architecture.
Some of the noteworthy initiatives are a new Petroleum Bill; a new Arbitration Bill spearheaded by retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Belize, Courtney Abel; Public Health Bill; Mental Health Bill; Tissue Transplant legislation Bill; Food and Drug Bill; Food Safety and Food Security Bills; and a revised Procurement Bill.
In addition there is the Hire Purchase Bill which is currently before the Select Committee; an Anti-Dumping Bill, a Movable Property Security Bill and an E-Transactions Bill are currently being drafted. There is also a new Juvenile Justice Bill, a Bail Bill, and Sentencing Guidelines on the table, among others.