Lawyers blast proposed General Laws Amendment Bill

THE Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) have blasted the proposed omnibus General Laws Amendment Bill which will soon be crafted in Parliament, saying it will only bring in minor changes to the 126 statutes that were set to be aligned with the new Constitution.

by VENERANDA LANGA

The ZLHR said the omnibus Bill would bring in minor changes such as re-referencing, changing titles of offices, official, institutions, inclusion of preambles and other cosmetic changes.

“The amendments to the many Acts are piecemeal and fail to align the most crucial and substantive provisions required to comply with the new Constitution,” the ZLHR said in their critique.

“We welcome that the Bill does seek to introduce some substantive amendments — notably to the Interpretation Act, the Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act, the Electoral Act, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and the Trade Marks Act, but we are concerned that some of these amendments do not, in fact, further the protection of constitutional rights,” ZLHR said.

The amendments to the Privileges, Immunities and Powers of Parliament Act were said to have provisions which would impose harsher fine penalties, imprisonment for non-payment of fines and administrative imprisonment for contempt, whereas the new Constitution provided for greater freedom of speech in Parliament.

The legal experts said it was a pity that Parliament failed to facilitate public involvement in its legislative process and did not consult interested parties about the General Laws Amendment Bill, as required under the Constitution.

They said the General Laws Amendment Bill failed to adequately deal with the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Broadcasting Services Act, as they were not in tandem with the provisions of the new Constitution.

The Election Resource Centre added that the raft of changes in the General Laws Amendment Bill pertaining to electoral reforms failed to address fundamental changes that had effects on the credibility of elections.

“The reforms maintain the old electoral regime, albeit under a new electoral Act, and it is difficult to consider these changes as electoral reforms. It retains the Registrar-General (RG) as a significant player in voter registration through insistence on the need for co-operation between the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) and the RG.”

They said the Bill retained the continued use of voter registration slips despite their wide condemnation and marginalised civic groups, and other independent voter educators from complementing ZEC in offering voter education.

“The Bill perpetuates the uncomfortable role played by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs in controlling ZEC administrative decisions and reinstates the postal voting system to those on election duty on voting days,” ERC said.

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