Law Reform Commission operates within constraints

The Samoa Law Reform Commission (S.L.R.C.) has identified financial constraints as the hurdle in carrying out their consultatives duties, the organisation's 2018-19 Annual Report has noted.

The Office noted that budgetary constraints affect their ability to undertake public consultations, something which is crucial to the S.L.R.C.'s role in providing advice on the drafting of new legislation. 

But the organisation's annual report says that while the consultation phase is crucial to their work it has become difficult to undertake.

Consultations by the Commission provide the public an opportunity to participate in the development of Samoa’s laws and voice their view on proposed legislation. 

“Without ample evidence [or] submissions gathered due to the low turnout at consultations and the lack of submissions made, the recommendations may be limited and not capture the full extent of the issues in reality,” the report notes.

Two major projects were completed in the Financial Year 2017-2018 by the Commission, namely the Property Law and Exchange of Information Review. 

Final reports submitted to Cabinet for approval were later endorsed in the following Financial Year by Cabinet.

The report also noted that the affordability of the legal search engines the Office uses for their research, such as Lexis Nexis, NZlii and Austlii, has been challenging. 

But the S.L.R.C. argues that they are vital for keeping informed about international law reform matters. 

“Subscription to these legal research engines is needed for access. The challenge is affordability. The Commission’s research is limited without access to these useful databases,” the report says.

The Commission recorded a substantial increase of $69,480 in its actual spending relative to its estimate. 

By contrast, under-used funds of $26,886 within the Financial Year due to savings accumulated from vacant positions were allocated to its personnel budget category to fund additional and overlap assignments from the year prior. 

The Commission also struggles with a substantial turnover rate of employees, it says.

“Attracting lawyers [or] staff continues to be a challenge to the Commission, especially experienced staff. All legal vacant positions are advertised at least thrice before a satisfactory pool of applicants is gained,” the report notes.

“With some positions, the Commission has proceeded to the recruiting and selection process even though there may be one or two applicants.”

But the Commission said attracting staff had become less of a challenge. 

The report noted that training and capacity building opportunities for staff are hard to come by with no legal overseas training offered through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Public Service Commission made available to S.L.R.C. lawyers.

“All overseas legal training and workshops are received by other offices especially the Office of the Attorney General. This is very unfortunate for the SLRC especially when some of the core projects of the S.L.R.C. are the subject of those workshops and training,” the report states.

“The [...] Office of the Attorney General and [...] MFAT were approached [about...sharing this] training but nothing has resulted to date.”

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