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To ensure that proper legal services are provided to the Government; to provide statutory services to the public relating to the public trust and bankruptcy matters; and to register titles, mortgages, companies, societies and other bodies as well as other documents, as required by the law.

I REFER to an article featured in the Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019 edition of the Kaieteur News, titled: “AG’s Chambers lacks expertise to fine tune oil laws.” The Attorney General’s Chambers and Ministry of Legal Affairs is of the view that this headline and the contents of the article represent a misinformed view of the role of the Drafting Division of the Attorney General’s Chambers.  However, not only is this view misinformed, but it seeks to diminish the work of a division, though short-staffed, drafts the laws of the land under immense pressure and time constraints. Therefore, permit the Chambers to clarify their important functions.

The persons who draft the laws of this country are lawyers admitted to practise in Guyana and because of their unique role, they are known as parliamentary counsel. These lawyers have various years of experience, ranging from over 30 years to one year. Some possess the LLM in Legislative Drafting and others are currently engaged in post-graduate studies in legislative drafting. Further, all staff of the Drafting Division have received training in other areas of the law: for example, anti-money laundering and countering terrorism financing and proliferation financing, nuclear and chemical weapons, cybercrime, Hague Conventions, intellectual property, anti-corruption, human rights and law revision.

The lawyers of the Drafting Division are responsible for translating the government’s policy into legislation. Through the drafting of laws they give effect to the constitutional, political, social and economic goals and aspirations of the government. Additionally, they ensure that the draft is constitutionally sound, complies with fundamental legal principles, does not repeal existing laws, is workable and effective and is in a form acceptable to Parliament. Further, when requested, they offer legal advice on laws, contracts and international agreements and contracts (e.g. IDB, UN and CARICOM). In essence, they are the government’s advisers with respect to legislation. They also coordinate and facilitate consultations on draft bills, laws and nationwide seminars on Anti-Corruption and Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism.

Particularly because of the nature of the job of the parliamentary counsel, the only expertise required is that of legislative drafting.  Therefore, they can draft any legislation that is required by the government and this is what they have been doing since the division was established.  One can be an expert in a particular field of law, but if that person does not possess the skill to draft, then he/she is not suitable to be a legislative drafter.  This is what distinguishes the parliamentary counsel from all other lawyers.  It is impossible for the parliamentary counsel to be specialist in all the areas of law that the government will require legislation. However, what the lawyers of the Drafting Division do possess are the skills required to give effect to the government’s policies. These are the skills that another lawyer who has the expertise, for example in oil and gas law, does not possess, since drafting is a skill that is developed over time.

It must be stated that drafts done by consultants/experts are oftentimes not in a form fit for Parliament and the parliamentary counsel has to engage in a process of dismantling the draft and reworking it to ensure it is fit for purpose. This simply means that being an expert is not synonymous with being a drafter. It is at this juncture that one can see the measure of the magnitude of our drafting expertise. The final product is always that of the Chambers as consultants are often too far removed from the realities of what is needed. Against this backdrop, persons should be careful about making disparaging and reckless remarks about the expertise that the Drafting Division possesses.

The author of our disparagement should be careful of his remarks. His arrangement in relation to oil and gas covers vast tracks of space and time, but he has committed an error by arrogating to himself, knowledge of which he is denuded.  Perhaps it would be apt to mention the Constitutional Reform Commission Bill drafted by a consultant, guided by a Steering Committee and sent to this Chambers.  The Bill had to be salvaged by the Chambers, because of a lack of knowledge by the consultant, and his failing to take into consideration certain key aspects of the laws of Guyana.

It is important to also note that drafters do not usurp the role of the government. It is the government and the respective ministries and departments that should have the requisite specialisation in the policy area that requires legislation.  Moreover, drafters do not work in a vacuum, but rather work along with the experts or consultants employed by the relevant ministry or department who is there to serve as the instructing officer. Also, we have worked with oil and gas experts from the Commonwealth and in other areas of the law with experts from the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP). Therefore, if the government wishes to have laws dealing with oil and gas, then it is the government who must ensure that they have the requisite experts to formulate what is known as drafting instructions.

This expert is the one responsible for explaining the aims of the legislative proposal to the drafter, give the drafter the requisite information to help the drafter to compose a product that is legally effective and responds to the policy, and make decisions on issues arising during the drafting. These instructions the drafters will use to guide them in drafting the law with clarity and precision, thus giving effect to the legislative aspirations of the government.

As noted by the late renowned legislative drafter, Professor V.C.R.A.C Crabbe, “Parliamentary Counsel must have some basic knowledge of indeed every subject matter.  They supplement their basic knowledge with research.  Their industry and discipline help them to ask the right questions.  In the end, Parliamentary Counsel becomes Jacks of all trades and masters in legislative drafting.”
In conclusion, there is no challenge that the Drafting Division cannot handle

Regards
Attorney General’s Chambers