The Vanuatu Law Reform Commission will on a monthly basis provide a column of Q&A to shed light on the mandate of the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission. This is an initiative to inform the general public on the roles and functions of the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission and the processes that can be utilised by Ministries and Departments to achieve legislative reform.
The purpose of this awareness raising strategy is to increase public knowledge and understanding of the legal mandate of the VLRC. It is hoped that this will increase the number of submissions by Ministries and Departments as they become more acquainted on how they can contribute to law reform in Vanuatu.

1.       What is the Law Reform Commission?
The Vanuatu Law Reform Commission is mandated by the Law Reform Commission Act (Cap 115) to review, recommend and reform the laws of Vanuatu as amended from time to time.

2.       What is Law Reform?

Law reform is the process of changing and updating laws, so that they reflect the current values and needs of modern society. Those responsible for making our laws must identify and study shifts in values, behaviours and expectations; they must consider whether new or amended laws are required; and they must develop and implement these changes. Law reform is a perpetual or ongoing process: it never finishes. The law must be flexible and receptive to change, so that stays fair, relevant and up to date. Above all, it must serve the needs of the people. A law based on outdated or irrelevant values will only let down the people it is intended to serve and protect. The law must also be able to respond to situations and scenarios thrown up by a changing society, such as new forms of criminal activity.

3.       What are the functions of the Law Reform Commission?

(1)The Commission has the following functions:

(a)to study and keep under review all laws and to recommend reforms particularly in respect to:

(i)the removal of anachronisms and anomalies; and

(ii)the reflection in the law of the distinctive concepts of custom, the common and civil legal systems and the reconciliation where appropriate of differences in those concepts; and

(iii)the development of new approaches to and new concepts of the law in keeping with and responsive to the changing needs of the society, of groups within that society and of individual members of that society; and creation of new laws.

 4. What is meant by the creation of new laws?

If one reads the recent amendment of 2016, Subsection 7(1)(b) provides for the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission to carry out, on its own initiative, studies and research of a legal nature as it considers necessary for carrying out its functions, including research relating to other legal systems; and

To consult with the Ministry or Department to review any aspect of the law; and

To provide information in regard to the review

5.      What is the legal requirement of the Ministries and Departments in relation to law Reform?

A Ministry or Department who intends to review its laws must consult with the Commission pursuant to Section 10A (1) of the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission (Amendment) Act of 2016

6.      Can a Ministry or Department use a Consultant to undertake a legislative review?

Yes as long as there is prior written approval of the Commission pursuant to Section 10A (2) of the Law Reform Commission (Amendment) Act of 2016.

7.      What is the current composition of the board of the Commission?

The Board has a Chairman and four members.

The members include a representative of the National Youth Council, a representative of the Malvatumauri, two private lawyers nominated by the Law Society and a representative of the State Law Office.

8.      If a Ministry or Department intends to review a legislation, what is the process?

(a)   Initiative must be from the Ministry or Department

(b)   The Departments upon request from the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission completes an approved Terms of Reference Form for the proposed reforms;

(c)    The Completed TOR is submitted to the VLRC for approved;

(d)   If it is not approved, the Commission communicates with the Department/Ministry for further dialogue and resubmission;

(e)   Once approved, the Commission commences the Review by issuing and Issue paper;

(f)     After the issue paper, Consultations begin with Stakeholders;

(g)   After the consultations, the feedback are compiled and

(h)   The report and recommendations are handed over to requesting Ministry or Department.

9.      Who has the prerogative to decide as the whether to proceed with the reform or to shelf the report and recommendations?

The onus as to whether to proceed with the report and recommendations lies with the requesting Ministry/Department.

10.  If the requesting Ministry/Department decides to proceed with the reform, what should they do?

After receiving the report and recommendations, the Ministry and Department should prepare drafting instructions to be forwarded to the State Law Office (Parliamentary Counsels Unit).

11.  Can the Commission initiate any legislative reform?

Yes

12.  Is this process outlined in paragraph (7) exhaustive or is there still room for improvement?

There is still room for improvement as we continue to see a lot of reports and recommendations collecting dust because officials in Departments and Ministries do not have the technical knowledge to write drafting instructions.

13.  How can this be solved?

Whilst the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission does the review and recommendations, reform cannot be achieved if the process is not complete, the VLRC process would only be completed if VLRC can be able to assist Stakeholders to write their drafting instructions since VLRC reports and recommendations are authoritative in nature outing current policy failures and finding solutions, it is imperative that the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission be able to assist Stakeholders to achieve the efficient and effective law reforms and law reform processes.

14.  How would that help the process?

Accurate drafting instructions to the Parliamentary Counsels division of the State Law Office would assist in the following ways:

1.      Lessen the time to draft recommended legal reforms or reviews;

2.      The intention of the requesting Departments/ Ministries remain intact;

3.      Same line of reading by all stakeholders in the reform process.


15.  How old is the Law Reform Commission?

Seven years but the Law Reform Commission Act was enacted by Parliament since 1980.


16.  What were the Major achievements of the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission since inception in 2010?

Since the establishment of the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission, outlined below are major achievements in the last six to seven years. Reviews were undertaken to the following Acts of Parliament:

(1)   Public Health Act [Cap 234]

(2)   Dangerous Drugs Act [Cap 12]

(3)   Water Supply Act [Cap 24]

(4)   Water Resource Management Act [Cap 281]

(5)   Penal Code [Cap 135] (focus on sexual offences, customary reconciliation)

(6)   Civil Status (Registration) Act [Cap 61]

(7)   Marriage Act [Cap 60]

(8)   Law Commission Act [Cap 115]

(9)   Ombudsman Act [Cap 252]

(10)                       Leadership Code Act [Cap 240].

17.  What public policy formulation processes were being undertaken by Vanuatu Law Reform Commission?

(a)   Undertake Research, consultations and analysis to assist government to better understand the problems to be addressed, the options for addressing the problems, and the merits of those options;

(b)   Prepare documents and presentation to inform Stakeholders about issues and problems and outlining policy options to line Departments and Cabinet Ministers, in an appropriate format;

(c)    Provide expert advice and feedback to line and cabinet Ministers on the strengths and weaknesses of any proposed policy amendment; and

(d)   Provide information to interested stakeholder, village councils, island councils, provincial councils, Church leaders, customary land owners, Council of Chiefs and in general public about government policy decisions and implementations.

18.  What is the purpose of this exercise?

To raise awareness to the general public on the function of the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission and hopefully, this should increase the number of request from national agencies requesting assistance in relations to law reform or legislative reforms.

19.  What would be the topic of discussion in the next Awareness (June 2018)?

We should be able to share some information on the current reforms undertaken by the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission and our internal procedures in relation to Law Reform.

20.  How can I get more information?

If you wish to obtain more information, call the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission on Voip: 5913/33620/5333160 or write to the Chairman, Vanuatu Law Reform Commission, P O Box 3380, Port Vila or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

21.  Where is the office of the Law Reform Commission
You can find the office of the Vanuatu Law Reform Commission at the 1st Floor of the Pacifica Building (Drug Store) above Uncle Bills. Lini Highway. Port Vila.