There is no question that the state of the laws inherited by Mr. Basil Willaims, Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs from his predecessor and would-be nemesis Mr. Anil Nandlall was a total mess. By subsidiary legislation in February 2014, Mr. Nandlall as Chairman of the Law Revision Commission published the Law Revision Order 2014 accompanying the eighteen volumes of the Laws of Guyana in force as at December 31, 2010.
As was so often the case with the PPP/C Government, the publication of the laws was driven not by its readiness but to meet donor agency deadline. More than two years ago, Mr. Nandlall admitted to the severe deficiencies in the laws but said these were being addressed by the Law Revision Unit established in the Chambers of the Attorney General. However a couple of days later, when Mr. Nandlall was challenged to answer specific questions about the nature and extent of the errors and omissions, he did not respond.
For those who think this is merely a matter for argumentation they should try looking at those laws for the National Accreditation Council Act of 2004, the Financial Management and Audit Act or the subsidiary legislation published under dozens of Acts. They will not find them. On the other hand, there are Acts which were repealed prior to December 31, 2010 but which appear in the 2010 Volumes.
In May 2015 when Mr. Basil Williams succeeded Nandlall as Attorney General, the responsibility for the laws shifted to him and it is he who must now fix the problem. His decision not to offer for sale any of the 2010 Volumes was the decent and sensible thing to do. But Mr. Williams needs to do far more. We understand that a Commonwealth Secretariat consultant had been working on the correction for more than a year.
That is more than enough time for the Law Revision Unit in his Ministry to have identified and evaluated the problem. It is not a favour to the public but a duty of the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs to tell the legal profession, the judges, magistrates and indeed the public the full extent of these egregious errors of omission and commission, when they would be corrected and when accurate and complete laws would be published.
There is a maxim that ignorance of the law is no defence when one is charged for an offence. It goes without saying that access to the laws is a fundamental element of the rule of law. The chief legal officer of the country will appreciate this more than most other citizens. In him too rest the duty and the power to ensure that the several elementary errors in the preparation of principal and subsidiary legislation are eliminated and that this is done in a professional manner.