The Commonwealth Association of Law Reform Agencies

Encouraging international cooperation in law reform


The Commonwealth Association of Law Reform Agencies

Encouraging international cooperation in law reform

A report from CALRAs was presented in writing and verbally to the biennial Meeting of Law Ministers of the Commonwealth in November 2019 in Sri Lanka. The report is set out below.

The Commonwealth Association of Law Reform Agencies (CALRAs)


1. The law in every country needs to be fair, modern, simple and cost-effective. Reform of the law is vital, including for the rule of law. It is increasingly recognised that reform of the law needs to be principled, to be based on sound methods, and to take account of the views of civil society and of experts. Law reform typically aims to sustain the rule of law, to improve protection for the vulnerable and to increase human rights. It needs to be respected, reliable, rigorous and responsive.

I. Background

2. Much law reform is conducted by law reformers within government. However, more and more countries and states have established law reform agencies (LRAs) over the last 50 years, because of their benefits. There are now over 60 permanent LRAs, mainly in the Commonwealth – ranging from large to very small agencies – with names such as Law Reform Commission, Law Commission and Law Reform Institute. National LRAs exist in over half of all Commonwealth countries. There is great variety between these law reform bodies, as is right and proper when one considers the variety of countries and states they serve.

3. The Commonwealth Association of Law Reform Agencies (CALRAs) was established in 2003-04, to encourage, facilitate and take forward cooperative initiatives in law reform – so as ultimately to improve the law and society. It is committed to the Commonwealth’s values, and received formal accreditation to the Commonwealth in 2005. CALRAs provides capacity-building in law reform, including for law reformers working in government and for those working in LRAs. CALRAs supports law reformers, and good practice for high quality law reform. Its facilities are also available beyond the Commonwealth.

II. Key Activities

4. Among other activities, CALRAs:-

(a) Provides training in law reform, for example in-country and regionally. There has also been a separate international study workshop on law reform methodology, held in London for senior law reformers across the Commonwealth (and beyond) since 2008; this year’s is from 4 to 8 November 2019 ( Next year’s is already being planned (5 to 9 October 2020), with a new emphasis and a new title: “Successful Law Reform: Practical Issues Today”. They aim to assist in achieving successful law reform, and consider different organisational and constitutional structures for law reform.
(b) Has produced a written guide to good practice in the process of law reform, “Changing the Law: a Practical Guide to Law Reform”. This was undertaken jointly

By CALRAs and the Commonwealth Secretariat. It is extremely valuable for:-

  • those with experience in law reform within LRAs and Government Ministries;
  • those new to close involvement in law reform, such as new law reformers (and new law reform units) within government, new LRAs, new LRA staff and new Law Commissioners, and special committees newly established for particular one-off reviews of specific subjects;
  • others such as law reformers in Small States or developing countries;
  • governments and others considering the possible establishment of a new LRA or a new law reform system –- to assist them to a full understanding of typical models and processes; and
  • recipients of law reform reports, particularly in Government and in Legislatures.

The need for a guide had been widely acknowledged, including by Commonwealth Law Ministers. A wide range of authors and reviewers contributed to the guide, from CALRAs members and from across the Commonwealth. The guide takes the reader in a very practical way through a typical law reform project, setting out the various stages for a successful project, such as careful project selection, thorough research, effective consultation, use of experts and of modern technology, skilful writing, high quality reports and recommendations, and appropriate publication. It discusses positive relationships with government, and successful implementation of reports. It describes the context of international legal obligations and human rights, the relevant Sustainable Development Goals and the Commonwealth Charter and values. It also describes the various structures and characteristics of law reform bodies. It suggests options for law reformers with very limited resources, including tailored guidance for those in Small States while also more sophisticated procedures for better funded or larger agencies. The guide is available, at Changing the Law: A Practical Guide to Law Reform:-

(1) To browse, download and print – without charge – from the CALRAs website ( and
(2) To browse without charge, download as an e-book (GBP30) or order as a paperback (GBP55 + postage) from the Commonwealth Secretariat’s iLibrary (

“This Guide to law reform may be read with profit not only by law reform practitioners, the principal target audience, but also by all those concerned with making and applying the law” (Dr Peter Slinn, Chair of the Commonwealth Judicial Journal’s Editorial Board).

© Organises international conferences on law reform, normally in partnership with the national LRA in the jurisdiction. The latest CALRAs Conference, our 8th, was entitled “Successful Law Reform: Practical Issues Today” and was held in April 2019 in Zambia. There were excellent speakers, with very good contributions from the floor. Participants came from 26 jurisdictions, including from 15 LRAs. There were twice as many participants as at the previous CALRAs Conference. It is expected that the next CALRAs Conference will be in 2021. In addition, CALRAs speakers led a session on Law Reform in Progress, at the Commonwealth Law Conference, also in April 2019 in Zambia.

(d) Engages with the Commonwealth and governments to seek high quality law reform geared to the specific country – including: encouraging and assisting the establishment and development of effective and good quality LRAs; and being significantly involved in Commonwealth Law Ministers Meetings, both those attended by the Law Ministers of all Commonwealth countries and those attended by the Law Ministers of Small Commonwealth Jurisdictions. CALRAs has provided papers on law reform for several of those Meetings, sometimes with specific recommendations for action; and presented reports about CALRAs’ activities to all Commonwealth Law Ministers Meetings since 2005.

The last Meeting of Law Ministers and Attorneys General of Small Commonwealth Jurisdictions, in October 2018, had the theme “Resilience through Law Reform. As the Outcome Statement said “Law Ministers and Attorneys welcomed the Commonwealth publication _“Changing the Law: A Practical Guide To Law Reform”, as a useful tool and agreed that it should be further disseminated among national law reform practitioners in the Commonwealth. Law Ministers and Attorneys agreed to continue to exchange experiences and viewpoints on law reform, including through the Commonwealth Legal Exchange Portal, with other Commonwealth countries. Law Ministers and Attorneys General welcomed technical assistance and training in the area of law reform, as provided by the Secretariat and the Commonwealth Association of Law Reform Agencies (CALRAs)) and noted that this was offered upon request to interested jurisdictions, subject to available resources.”

(e) Undertakes other law reform activities, including giving assistance and advice to Law Ministers, the Commonwealth Secretariat and others, and conducting reviews of the existing law reform machinery and methods of individual LRAs.

(f) Has strong relationships with many relevant organisations, including as a founder member of the Commonwealth Legal Forum, a group of Commonwealth legal associations.

5. Many of these activities are of particular benefit to small states, which may have more limited financial and human resources. A paper derived from a chapter in the guide (paragraph 4 (b) above) about Law Reform in Small States was presented by CALRAs on behalf of the Commonwealth Secretariat at the Meeting of Law Ministers and Attorneys General of Small Commonwealth Jurisdictions in October 2018. Overall, we encourage international cooperation in law reform, having worked in about 20 countries. Although our resources are very limited, we believe we have helped put law reform higher on the agenda of the Commonwealth and of many of its members.

6. CALRAs has access to a number of experts on law reform methodology. They assist on capacity-building for law reform. They have worked as consultants, training course leaders and conference speakers. They have done so in, for example, Uganda, Trinidad, South Africa, Nigeria, Malaysia, Malawi, Kenya, India, Ghana, Brunei, Botswana and Bangladesh. Their consultancies have been, for example, for the Commonwealth Secretariat, the World Bank, the European Development Fund, the Canadian International Development Agency, the British Council and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

III. Membership, organisation and finances

7. Membership of CALRAs is generally open to:-

– institutional LRAs,
– individuals with a current or previous tie to an LRA, and
– other bodies and individuals supporting the aims of CALRAs.

CALRAs is an informal body. It has no paid staff and is run by volunteers. Annual membership fees have deliberately been kept low.

8. Large and small jurisdictions are both well represented among the membership, as are both developed and developing countries.

IV. Conclusion

10. CALRAs is ready to try to advise and assist all those interested in the vital task of law reform. Enquiries are very welcome. Further information and membership application forms are available from:

Michael Sayers,
Acting General Secretary (Hon),
18 Manor Way,
Onslow Village,
Guildford, GU2 7RN,

September 2019