The Rwanda Law Reform Commission (RLRC) might not be the best known public institution in the country, but it plays a very important role in ensuring legislative, administrative and judicial harmony – making sure that laws are properly drafted, that they don’t contradict each other or the Constitution, and continuously reviewing laws to ensure they stay relevant.
Hope Magazine spoke to the Commission’s Chairman, John Gara, who among other things talked about the gargantuan task that is the periodic comprehensive law revision which is currently in progress.
Can you briefly explain what the Rwanda Law Reform Commission does?
The Law Reform Commission has a number of different but integrated functions, and is structured to accomplish them.
The Commission has about 63 staff, out of which 39 lawyers serve two main legal departments. The first one is responsible for legislative drafting and translation. All laws that go through Parliament and all Ministerial, Prime Ministerial and Presidential Orders have to pass through the RLRC first. Generally, institutions prepare the first draft and send it to the Commission for legal review and language checking before it goes to Cabinet for approval.
We review those drafts, which means we make some changes and adjustments to make sure it is drafted properly but we also check that it complies with the constitution, or if it’s an Order that it also complies with the parent law. So basically the Commission looks at all the legalities.
Once we finish the process, the institution can send the draft to Cabinet, and if they propose any changes to it there, it comes back to the RLRC to make those changes.
In case of a draft law that goes to Parliament, the RLRC is mandated to follow it throughout the whole process in Parliament and provide legislative drafting support that may be required.
The second department of the RLRC is the law reform and law revision department. What this department does essentially is to continuously review all laws that are currently in place and see whether any of them need reform. If that is the case, we would either initiate something ourselves or write to the relevant institution to inform them how that law has a problem or that there have been complaints about it.
Apart from the laws in place, we also look at possible gaps because law reform doesn’t only involve reforming what is there, but also creating what should be there.
Can you please elaborate more on the process of law revision?
Actually, we hope soon to embark on a comprehensive law revision project; it is something that is being done in most of our neighboring countries, but it would be the first time in Rwanda.
What this means is that every five years or so, you look at all amendments made to laws by Ministers and Parliament, and you consolidate them. It also involves looking at laws that might have become obsolete or outdated, and you update them or propose their repeal.
Currently, the country is in a peculiar position because we have laws from colonial times that are still applicable, yet virtually nobody knows them. These laws are scattered because we don’t have a consolidated and update compendium of Rwandan laws.
So far, the RLRC has been making an inventory from different sources and scattered places, and the second stage will be revising the laws. At that time, there will be several options – for example, you can set a cut-off line, where you simply repeal all laws that are older than a certain date, or you can look at them case by case and decide which ones are still useful and which ones you don’t want to keep. The option to take is not for the Commission to decide on its own; what we will do is write a proposal and take guidance from the policy-makers.
Whatever the case will be, this won’t take a few weeks or few months – it’s a huge exercise because there are thousands and thousands of laws in place and one has to make sure they don’t contradict each other.
Can you give us an overview of what the RLRC has achieved since its creation?
I have been the Chairman of the Commission for five years, and I joined it when it had just been created. Back then, we had staff of about 9 lawyers; it was a completely different kind of structure and we were basically looking at law reforms and no legislative drafting. So as we started, and seeing the work required, the mandate of the RLRC changed to a bigger number of functions. Consequently the Commission had to be reorganized to get the structure I mentioned earlier. Indeed there might be further restructuring to enable us to fulfill the expanded duties of the Commission.
What does the Commission want to achieve in the next three to five years?
First, I would like to see the revised edition of Rwandan laws, to me that is a huge priority – to have this edition where we have all the laws consolidated and online available to the population.
Secondly, we would like to have a system where the drafting of laws is centralized at the RLRC, rather than having institutions prepare drafts which they send to us.
We would also like to see more publications on different topics that are of interest to the public, and finally having more well drafted, clean laws in the same style available to the population.
In that context, what is the Commission doing to make sure the public is aware of the laws?
The RLRC has engaged in a number of activities such as a legal awareness team which sensitizes the population on occasions like umuganda about for example matrimonial and succession laws, those that concern them in their day-to-day life. It all depends on the audience – we are not likely to go to umuganda and talk about the cybercrime law.
We have radio and TV programs as well as a toll-free line which anybody who has a question on any law can call. So those are ways of creating awareness.
But we still want to do more – talk about topics that we think are relevant to society and have articles written about them.
Read this article and more in issue n° 76 of Hope Magazine.