Legislative Drafting Unit (LDU)
The translation of policy into law is a vital part of promoting good governance and the rule of law in society. Properly managed and executed, the legislative drafting process builds public confidence in the legal system; makes institutions and institutional frameworks more efficient and transparent. It is a process which poses various challenges for those involved, from formulating policy and issuing the drafting instructions, to the actual drafting of the legislation.
The Legislative Drafting Unit of the Attorney General’s Ministry is the Law Office of the Government charged with the responsibility for the preparation of draft legislation. The Unit works closely with client Ministries to translate policy into clear, effective and readable law. Our role will often begin when legislation is first being considered and we will remain involved throughout the Parliamentary process.
Role and Mission
The role of the LDU is to:
- facilitate the Government in the task of governing by preparing draft legislation in fulfillment of its Legislative Mandate and in pursuance of policy decisions at Ministry level; and
- give Counsel to the Government in the exercise of its law-making powers by advising the National Assembly on draft Bills which it seeks to enact.
In carrying out these functions Crown Counsel draft Bills and subsidiary legislation on instructions from client Ministries, advise Ministries on points of law relevant to proposed legislation, examine and comment on all Cabinet Submissions related to legislation, attend Legislation Committee (a Sub-Committee of Cabinet) and, when necessary, sittings of National Assembly or Committees thereof when Bills are being taken.
The development of legislation is distinct from its drafting, which is a part of the development process. The main role of LDU is to prepare draft legislation including, substantive legislation (i.e., Bills) and subsidiary legislation (i.e., Regulations, By-Laws, Orders, Notices and Rules). Development involves all stages from the development of legislative policy proposals to enactment into law and passage.
The procedure can be broken down into seven main stages:
- Development of annual legislation agenda;
- Approval of policy by Cabinet;
- Issue of drafting instructions;
- Preparation and circulation of Bills;
- Approval of Bills by the sponsoring Ministry/Agency;
- Approval of Bills by the Cabinet; and
- Introduction of Bills in Parliament.
Stages of a Bill
Within each House there are steps, or stages through which a Bill must pass. These are: introduction and first reading, second reading, Committee of the whole, report from committee of the Whole, third reading.
The standing orders (or rules) of each House provide for Bills to be taken through the different stages at one sitting. The different stages provide different opportunities to consider a Bill-first overall or in principle, then in detail with opportunity for amendments to be made, and, finally, to enable reconsideration and a “last look”.
As the majority of Bills are government Bills introduced in the House of Representatives, we will follow the steps that such a Bill goes through in the process of becoming an Act. If a Bill is introduced in the Senate, then it would proceed through the various Senate stages before being read a first time in the House of Representatives.
Governor General’s Assent
A Bill must pass through all stages in each House of the National Assembly and any amendment(s) made in one House must be agreed to by the other House before it can be presented to His Excellency for the Governor General’s Assent. When a Bill is passed by both Houses, copies are certified by the Presiding Officers and the Clerk of both Houses before it is sent to the Governor-General for his assent. The Governor-General’s signature and the impress of the public seal are necessary formalities, which represent the final stages in converting a Bill into Law. The law styled as “Act” is then published in the Gazette. The Bill becomes an Act and the legislation now has the status of Law.
Publication and Commencement
Once the Governor General’s Assent has been obtained, it is the duty of the Clerk of the House to send the Act to Print Belize to have the Act printed and published in the Gazette. The Act is given a number and Gazette notification shows the Act No., the Short Title and the date of Assent.
The ways in which a Bill can come into effect
- on the date of Assent the Bill becomes an Act;
- on a date to be fixed by Proclamation;
- on a particular or specified date or dates, or; by a combination of the above.
If there is no commencement date, the date of Assent is the date the Act becomes law.