Make legislation easy to understand: expert

National 2 minutes, 48 seconds


LEGISLATION should be easy to understand and straightforward, said a visiting legislative drafting expert from Britain.

“As I have been involved in and studied the subject, it struck me more and more how important it is to communicate with those who are to be affected by the legislation,” said Roger Neville Rose from RIPA International (Royal Institute of Public Administration), London.

“That sounds simplistic and obvious, but it’s something that has not been attended to in a very marked way in many jurisdictions in the past.”

Rose was speaking at a “share and discuss session” with the Attorney General’s Chambers on the topic of “Why is lawmaking time consuming and is legislation always the answer?”

He said the drafting of legislation has concentrated on vetting the rules, being precise and not worrying if the language is user-friendly or whether it is comprehensible to those who are supposed to apply and use it.

“That is something that is objectionable in modern times and all the more so when we talk about documents in the public domain, namely legislation.”

This does not mean that concepts are going to be complicated and difficult, although there are exceptions, said Rose, who cited the example of taxation legislation which cannot be overly simplified.

“In certain areas there is a need for complexity, but that does not avoid the need for proper communication,” he said.

The law drafting expert further said effective communication means that when drafting legislation, there is a need to get a mental picture of how the legislation will affect those on the receiving end or those tasked with administering and enforcing it.

“The overriding one is the need in legislation to put oneself in the shoes of the person to be affected by the legislation, and also the person or persons who is or are expected to administer it and enforce it,” Rose said.

He explained that one must be clear about policy before laying down rules. “The task of the drafter is then to effectively communicate the intention of the policymakers.”

When drafting legislation, Rose said it is vital to be clear, comprehensible, concise, consistent, certain and complete – the six Cs.

He said it is important to use clear language with direct, modern modes of expression.

“We need to address those who are affected in modern language that people understand and express in the way that people understand,” Rose said.

Legislation also needs to be comprehensible. Sentences should be reasonably short and paragraphs should be laid out in a way that makes them easy to read and understand as quickly as possible, he added.

He said the language used must be concise, as well as consistent.

“It needs to be consistent, so that the same style is used, the same words and expression used to mean the same thing. If we use different words, we’re presumed to mean different things.”

Rose also said legislation needs to be “certain”, so that it is not ambiguous.

However, Rose said the most challenging requirement to meet is the last of the Cs.

He said the legislation must be “complete” – it must cover every reasonably foreseeable circumstance that is likely to arise “bearing in mind that if the law changes people’s behaviour to some extent is likely to change if it’s going to adversely affect them”.

The Brunei Times