Nairobi Principles adopted after inaugural legal counsel colloquium
The Inaugural Africa Colloquium of Legal Counsel to Parliaments attracted participation from the Parliaments of Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Seychelles, South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Ghana and Zambia. The late October two-day colloquium at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, was organized and hosted by the Kenya National Assembly with support from USAID and UKAID, facilitated by SUNY Kenya.
Deliberations focused on the role of legal counsel in parliament from a legislator’s perspective, from a clerk’s perspective and comparative studies of the various jurisdictions in regard to the manner in which legal services are provided to the respective Parliaments. The delegates then reviewed the Draft Nairobi Principles for the Establishment and Operations of Offices of Legal Counsel in Parliaments in Africa (“the Nairobi Principles”) as a benchmark for the development of parliamentary legal practice on the continent.
The meeting was officially opened by the Speaker of the Kenya National Assembly, Hon. Kenneth Marende. Those present included Ms. Catie Lott, Democracy & Governance Team Leader, USAID; Dr. Fred Matiangi, Country Director, SUNY Kenya; Mr. Patrick Gichohi, Clerk, Kenya National Assembly; and Hon. Mohamed Abdikadir MP Mandera Central.
Among the key highlights were:
- Drafting of legislation is the remit of Parliament in some jurisdictions while others still rely on the Executive (Office of the Attorney-General)
- As Parliaments evolve into autonomous body corporates, litigation services have also emerged as a critical service area
- Advising Speaker on the legal matters in the House has improved the performance of that office but comes with political risks for staff
- Teamwork is critical to ensure success of the institution
- Developing a strategy for effective communication is a useful adjunct to effective service delivery
- Impartiality in legal representation, both outside and within Parliament is the hallmark of professionalism
- Capacity building for other officers is a necessary investment for professionalism and competence
These challenges experienced in the work of Legal Counsel all the jurisdictions were also highlighted:
- The offices are understaffed therefore the workers are overworked.
- Lack of clear demarcation between different parliamentary departments, with considerable overlap and/or bureaucracy in some jurisdictions
- Drafting capacity is compromised
- Political influence in their work
- Lack of continuous professional training
- Inadequate reference materials
At the end of the colloquium, the delegates unanimously adopted the Nairobi Principles, with amendments from the technical working groups of the colloquium, act as a guide for improved service delivery and effective legislative work. The principles agreed on recognized and established mutual obligations regarding autonomy, integration, capacitation, cooperation, inter-linkage, public service, mentorship, professionalism, constitutionalism, outreach and self-assessment as the core elements of the roles and functions of Legal Counsel in Parliaments. The Nairobi Principles are an important milestone, in that they are primarily intended to improve the separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislature as a sine qua non for effective legislatures and, ultimately, the growth of good governance and democracy in Africa.
At the end of the meeting, there was an appreciation that the objectives of the colloquium had all been met. Those in attendance agreed to make the colloquium a biennial event and suggested widening attendance to include all lawyers working in Parliaments in Africa. Rwanda was unanimously agreed as the next host, with Uganda as the alternate host. For the Office of Legal Counsel in Kenya, there were many lessons learned regarding effective service delivery through peer learning. The Nairobi Principles will provide a benchmark for efficient and effective service delivery at a time when the Kenya National Assembly is in transition. The Constitutional dispensation establishes two houses in Parliament (National Assembly and Senate) and will require an effective legal department which is not part of an Executive department or agency but one that is housed in Parliament and provides services to Parliament.
Posted Nov. 15, 2011