Starting with a question, not an answer

Publication Date 
13 April 2017

Gertrude Lynn Hiwa SCIndependence is a key characteristic of good law reform says Malawi's Law Commissioner Gertrude Lynn Hiwa SC.

Gertrude Lynn Hiwa joined 33 other law reform experts, including New Zealand Law Commissioner Donna Buckingham, at the Commonwealth Association of Law Reform Agencies (CALRAs) conference in Melbourne last month.

CALRAs helps law reform agencies like the New Zealand Law Commission share information, advice and even resources. There are about 60 law reform agencies around the world and most of them are based in the Commonwealth.

Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, who also spoke at the conference, agreed with Gertrude Lynn Hiwa that independence is crucial to the survival of effective law reform agencies.

Rosalind Croucher, who is the President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, says independence does not come from law reform agencies' structure, but from their way of doing law reform.

Structures differ around the Commonwealth. Some agencies have Members of Parliament embedded in their organisation, some have sitting judges, some have their own Act of Parliament while others are not-for-profit agencies. They all, though, demonstrate their relevance through their independent actions.

Rosalind Croucher says the independent law reform agencies' way of doing law reform starts with asking questions not giving answers. By comparison politicians or government departments will often identify what they want to achieve first and then work out a path to get there.

Law reform agencies demonstrate their independence by involving the public says Rosalind Croucher. Starting with questions rather than answers builds the public's trust and ensures that people know their input is valuable and has an effect on the outcome. It provides an apolitical, unaligned way in which people can propose new ideas.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission kindly hosted Donna Buckingham and other attendees throughout the conference.

Thank you to Edwin Mauluka for the photo of Commissioner Gertrude Lynn Hiwa SC