IALS Law Reform Project

Jonathan Teasdale and Dr Enrico Albanesi

Law reform in its many guises bridges the divide between the practical and the academic. In both common law and civil law jurisdictions there is a continuing need to review existing law - both statute and case law - to ensure it remains fit for purpose and relevant to the current needs of government and society. The means employed to achieve these aims, and to deliver revision where that is called for, will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and will take various forms.

For those jurisdictions with a mature statute book there comes a time when the legislation within it needs to be assessed with a view to removing material which has, for one reason or another (not least the passing of decades), become obsolete or superseded or of no practical use. That needs to be weeded out. Other legislation will have been subject to amendment down the years and some mechanism needs to be found either to consolidate the adjustments into a single text or to restyle it, taking into account court decisions arising from interpretation or application, through a codification or a rewrite exercise. Law revision involves a combination of all these techniques, reordering the whole or parts of the statute book in a more logical manner so that its format and contents become more accessible in hard or electronic copy.

And then there is the need from time to time to stand back from the subject matter of particular areas of law and to decide whether, if the law no longer functions in a wholly satisfactory manner, it should be reformed - in other words, unpicked and reassembled in a more coherent or comprehensive or simplified manner, underpinned by a legislative process.

Law reform is carried out through different organisations. In some jurisdictions this is the task of the attorney-general’s office; in others specific law reform agencies are formally established with a brief to review and make recommendations to government or to the legislature; and in others the job of law reform is given to academic bodies to undertake. Alongside that, professional bodies in the less formal realm often develop law reform proposals and lobby for change. But what is not really clear is how law reform is delivered within different types of jurisdiction; how effective that delivery is, in terms of governmental acceptance and implementation; how a programme of law reform is developed; and how good practice across the different agencies may be identified, disseminated and shared.

The IALS Law Reform Project, working in conjunction with other bodies in the field, aims to address some of these issues. The canvas is necessarily wide, but we hope it will appeal to a range of practitioners (in reform and in legal services generally), of academics (specialising in law and other related disciplines) and of those who are engaged in the arenas of policy-making, legislative drafting and political decision-making.

The initial aims of the project would be:

  • to identify the range, and to categorise the types, of law reform agencies operating across common law jurisdictions, and to start to scope their functions, methods of operation and arrangements for intellectual independence and funding
  • to identify, in similar fashion, the mechanisms employed in jurisdictions operating within a civil law context, or a mixed common and civil law environment, to review and revise their municipal law
  • to identify the breadth of law reform projects handled within agencies, and to ascertain the vehicles through which law reform is delivered (eg by codification or consolidation or simplification)
  • to identify the methodologies adopted by agencies to choose topics for law reform, to undertake and commission research, to obtain public and stakeholder feedback, and to publicise their findings
  • to identify how reform recommendations are implemented and the degree to which implementation is secured (by legislative, executive or judicial means)
  • to identify the range of professional skills required to deliver effective law reform, and the manner by which such skills are either acquired or enhanced.

Given the magnitude of the task we have set ourselves we want to dip our toes in the water with an inaugural workshop to ascertain whether the project is viable, whether it is thought to be worthwhile, and whether we can establish a network of people and organisations with whom we can collaborate as we progress. This first workshop, held on Tuesday 24 November 2015 at the Institute here in the University of London, (see our events page for details) sought to set out - in a fairly broad brush way - the areas we feel are worthy of academic exploration but which may well have practical uses for other audiences. For example, governments abroad who may need advice on setting up law reform agencies may be glad of advice on the different models in place, how they perform, and the people or organisations to contact for further guidance.

The second workshop, held on Friday 28 October 2016 at the Institute here in the University of London (see our events page for details) focused on codification in civil law and common law jurisdictions.

In its opening stages the project will focus on the mechanics of law reform rather than its substance, although that certainly does not rule out later on seeking to undertake research work on areas of law reform which (for whatever reason - usually one of resources) are unlikely to be looked at by other organisations in the field, and then linking that work with the Sir William Dale Centre’s established Legislative Drafting Clinic.

The Law Reform Project will be co-led by Dr Enrico Albanesi (University of Genoa lecturer in constitutional law) and Jonathan Teasdale (Sir William Dale associate research fellow at IALS), under the general supervision of Dr Constantin Stefanou (Director of the Sir William Dale Centre for Legislative Studies). We hope to involve other research fellows and PhD candidates from within the Institute in this project as it unfolds.

If you require further information on the project or would like to become involved please contact us at: ials.lawreform@sas.ac.uk

Page last updated: 18th November 2016