October 2000

Number 3


It is now well over two years since the publication of a Newsletter and for that I apologise to all concerned. The reasons are many and varied but not least amongst them, initially, was my wish to delay this issue until I could outline plans with regard to our involvement in the Commonwealth Law Conference in Kuala Lumpur. In the event that never became possible and indeed there was still some uncertainty as to exactly what we were doing and where until after I arrived there. However, it turned out to be a splendid conference in all respects, as those who were present will vouch, and we are grateful to all those of our Malaysian colleagues who made it so.

More recently the delay has been caused by uncertainty as to the venue and timing of the next Commonwealth Law Conference in the light of the political situation in Zimbabwe who had been chosen to host the next Conference in Harare in 2001. It seemed sensible to delay this issue until we had a final decision in that respect.

We now know that at its meeting in London in June the Council of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association decided to switch the 13th Conference to Australia. Zimbabwe, it is hoped, will be in a position to host the 14th Conference in 2005. The Law Council of Australia has since agreed that the 13th Conference can be held in Melbourne in April 2003. Further details in the next newsletter.

The main purpose of this Newsletter is to tell you a little about the 1999 Conference so far as the Association was concerned and particularly about the decisions taken at the Association Business Meeting held during the course of the Conference.

The plenary session at the Conference, which the Association co-hosted with the Malaysian Bar Council, was on the theme “Promoting Good Government: Recent Developments in Judicial Review in the Commonwealth”. It was well received by a large and interested audience. The Association was particularly grateful to Marie-Claude Goulet (Canada) and Sir Robert Carnwath (UK) for agreeing to deliver papers to the session on behalf of the Association. They were joined on the panel of speakers by Michael Beloff QC (UK), Prof. Brigid Hadfield (Northern Ireland) and Johannes Chan (Hong Kong).

The Business Meeting attracted some 45 delegates from 15 different Commonwealth jurisdictions. The meeting was chaired by our out-going Chairman, Dato’ Heliliah Yusof, the Solicitor-General of Malaysia who, after a welcome to all those attending, largely left it to the Secretary to get through the business expeditiously.

Among the most important decision to be taken at any Business Meeting is the choice of the successor Chairman who, in accordance with the practice that has been established, should come from the host nation of the next conference. Identifying the possible candidates in advance of the meeting had not proved possible but we were guided in our decision at the meeting by Canaan Dube, the President of the Zimbabwe Law Society who commended the name of Mr. Augustine Chikumira, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Justice and Solicitor-General of Zimbabwe although he had not yet had the opportunity to speak to him about this. Mr. Chikumira, he explained, had been prevented from attending the conference by illness. The meeting was pleased to accept this advice and agreed to elect him as Chairman on the understanding that he would be willing to serve.

In the light of the recent decision to switch the next Conference to Australia, Mr. Chikimura has accepted that it would now be sensible for an Australian to serve as Chairman until the next Conference and consultations to that end are now in hand.

Christopher Robinson (UK) was reelected Secretary but indicated that he would not be standing for re-election at the next Conference. He reported that he had received an expression of interest from Greg Ross (Australia) in taking on the Secretarial role at that time. Peter Rhodes (UK), as Treasurer for the time being of the Local Government Group of the Law Society of England and Wales, was re-elected as Treasurer.

The draft Constitution, as amended in the light of discussions since the Vancouver meeting, when it had only been approved as a working draft, was finally approved without further debate. Provision was fortuitously made for the appointment of a Chairman by the Chairman of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association in the event of a casual vacancy. Copies of the approved Constitution are available from the Secretary on request.

The meeting noted that there were now 9 Institutional Members and 25 Individual Members from 6 jurisdictions. Since the last Newsletter of February 1998, the following had applied for Institutional Membership:

Committee of Lawyers in Government and Commerce, New Zealand;
In-house Lawyers Group, Law Society of Scotland;
Judicial and Legal Services, Malaysia; Association of Police Lawyers, UK;
Crown Prosecution Service, England

In subsequent discussion, the meeting agreed that priority should continue to be given to developing the Institutional Membership base. The Commonwealth Secretariat undertook to assist in this task by providing a contact list.

The meeting expressed the Association’s thanks to the Local Government Group (UK) for offering to continue to fund, until the next Conference and at broadly the present level, the administrative expenditure of the Association. It was therefore decided not to attempt to levy a subscription at this stage given the administrative complications and cost that this would entail. However, it was accepted that this was an issue that would have to be addressed at the next Conference.

Marie-Claude Goulet (Canada) drew attention to the Exchange Programme of the Canadian Department of Justice. Any member interested in that programme should contact her by email at marie-claire.goulet@justice.x400.gc.ca or by writing to her at the Department in Ottawa.

The meeting spent some time discussing the priorities for the Association for the next two years over and above the development of the institutional membership base referred to above. One view was that the members of the Association had a significant role to play in educating public sector administrators in basic legal concepts. Others felt the need for workshops for the Association members themselves.

However there was a general consensus that the major role of the Association was in the establishment of both formal and informal networks which would flow from the establishment of a database of government legal services throughout the Commonwealth. This should identify for each separate jurisdiction the title and role of the service and an individual willing to act as the contact point and local rapporteur for the Association.

The gradual development of a database of this nature was considered possible with the aid of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s contact list. The ultimate aim should be to make the database generally available to members on an Association web site with appropriate links to other sites with a common or shared interest in all or part of the information it contained. An Association web site with such a database would, it was argued, prove particularly helpful to the smaller jurisdictions. It would facilitate the exchange of information about individual research projects as well as the sharing of common problems and the seeking of local solutions. An active site would also encourage the development of the Institutional membership base.

The Secretary was therefore asked, with the help promised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, to make a direct approach as soon as possible to the government legal service in each Commonwealth jurisdiction bringing to its attention the existence, role and development plans of the Association as a first step towards establishing the database. The Secretary was also asked meanwhile to explore, as a matter of some urgency and in consultation with others with like interests, the options for and financial implications of establishing an Association web site.

The meeting supported the Secretary in his wish to encourage the use whenever possible of email as the primary means of communication between members of the Association with fax as the secondary means.

Since the meeting in Kuala Lumpur, there has been little time available to move forward on the development of the Association. Priority has been given to the settlement of the minutes and the production and distribution of this newsletter. However, contact has been made with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the present aim is to have circulated all Commonwealth government legal services by the end of this year.

Meanwhile some enquiries have been made about web sites and contacts made with others who are working to a similar end. Most important, however, is the informal offer in principle of funding for our project that I have obtained. A detailed report on the project is required and to this end two proposals for establishing such a site have been obtained and are being evaluated. I am hopeful that ultimately the necessary money will materialise and thus enable us to proceed so that we have at least something positive to show for our efforts by the time we all arrive at the next Conference.

The general view, in the light of experience in Vancouver in 1996 and in Kuala Lumpur last year, was that the Association’s involvement in any conference was best organised locally. The Chairman should therefore be asked to take the lead in making the arrangements for the next conference.

It was agreed that the Association should offer to mount, host and chair a single main programme plenary session. It should also organise a separate half day of workshops specifically aimed at public sector lawyers. Whether these workshops and the Association’s Business Meeting should take place within the main conference programme or be arranged on the day preceding or the day following the conference should be decided in the light of the time and cost implications of these two alternative possibilities. However, those present in Kuala Lumpur felt that it had been disappointing to have had to miss important plenary sessions in order to be able to attend the Association’s business meeting there. The views of members on the best solution would be welcome.

The first of a new series of two-week courses called "Lawyers and Government: Managing Change", developed and run by Public Administration International, took place in London and Edinburgh this March. The course was put on in consultation with the Commonwealth Secretariat The fee of 2500 covered tuition, airport transfers and travel, books and documentation required by the programme.

Its aim was to enable public sector lawyers from abroad to learn about the changes relevant to them that have been taking place in the UK in recent years. Devolution in Scotland and Wales, the reform of the House of Lords and the incorporation into domestic law of the European Convention on Human Rights were merely the most obvious. Much work was also being done in less obvious areas like race relations and freedom of information. Indeed the public service itself, including the public prosecuting authorities, had undergone a great deal of reform, both structurally and philosophically, over the last two decades.

Against this background the course was arranged to comprise a large number of visits to government departments, NGOs and academic institutions, both in London and Edinburgh. In each of the outside visits, officials, mainly but not exclusively lawyers, explained how their departments or organisations were coping with the various aspects of change affecting them. Course members were also encouraged to talk about particular aspects of change in their own jurisdictions. Changing trends in legislative drafting techniques and procedures were also examined.

The small group of senior lawyers from Fiji, the Gambia, Singapore and Tonga who attended the course were thus exposed to an enormous range of different subjects and organisations. By their own assessments, as set out below, they gained much of value to them:

"The programme provided very interesting and useful information. Also, we were able to meet and establish contacts with senior people in the UK government".
"I gained a lot of relevant and practical knowledge which will be of great assistance in managing current problems and in initiating new ways of carrying out my work".
"The presenters were very knowledgeable and well prepared. They were also very frank and willing to share their experience, including any perceived problems".
"The topic of change, ever-present, is one which all organisations, public and private, have to grapple with daily. The subjects covered in the programme were varied and showed how the British legal service is coping with such changes".

Details of the next course, to be held in London from 12 to 23 March 2001, can be obtained now from Public Administration International at Pai@public-admin.co.uk or from the Secretary.

Since the last Newsletter we have established links with the IBA which we hope will be to our mutual advantage. We have become, through the Secretary, a member of the IBA and of its Government Practice Committee 15 in particular but, as this had so far produced little by way of benefit or even information, the desirability of continuing our subscription was challenged. This led to letters from both the Executive Director of the IBA and the Chair of Committee 15, Mary Dawson, the Associate Deputy Minister of the Canadian Department of Justice, expressing the hope that we would maintain our membership and promising more effective communication in the future. On the strength of this promise, the subscription has been renewed but the position will be kept under review.

The Secretary is keen to develop the Association’s email address book. This Newsletter is being sent by email to all those for whom the Secretary already has an email address.

If your Newsletter has arrived by post and you have an email address, then please acknowledge its receipt by email to the Secretary at the address set out at the end of this Newsletter and your address will then go straight into the address book for future communications which will therefore reach you that much faster. Queries will also get a much quicker response and that is a promise.

In due course copies of the address book will be made available to all members. Meanwhile the Secretary will be happy to supply on request any member with the email address of a specific member if he has it.