In addition to understanding the structure of the government and compliance with international, regional and local laws; advocates whose end goal is a new or amended law should ensure they understand how a bill becomes a law and the detailed procedural rules applicable to the process.
CASE STUDY: In the UK, a special committee of the House of Lords focuses on determining how well the legislative process is functioning. The Select Committee on the Constitution makes recommendations to Parliament and ministries on how to improve the functioning of the legislative process, including how to ensure that public engagement is maximized. These recommendations form a strong basis for advocacy by groups who wish to be able to influence legislation in the UK or in any legislative process. Several of the recommendations focus on how to engage with the public on pending legislation. The House of Lords recommends that:
The House of Lords report also identified several positive practices that have already been instituted to make the legislative process more accessible to ordinary citizens in the UK. For instance, Parliament has expanded avenues for public consultation and requires that documentation used in the consultation process is written in plain language accessible to a lay person. See: Parliament and the Legislative Process: Volume 1 Report (2004).
Advocates should fully understand the process of enacting new laws. Advocates must know how a bill becomes a law and the rules of procedure. If advocates fail to follow a particular procedural rule, significant challenges may cause the advocacy effort to stall or be derailed. The information is typically available through the national parliament. If such information cannot be easily found, advocates should consult with the national laws on freedom of access to information available through the online network of freedom of information advocates.
The following list represents examples of how a bill becomes a law in several different countries:
CASE STUDY: Advocates in Albania discovered the importance of understanding the procedural rules when they attempted to introduce a draft law on violence in the family to the Albanian Parliament. The Albanian approach to legal reform on domestic violence was first to amend the family code, which included the introduction of an order for protection allowing the court to order the abuser to stay away from the home shared with the victim for a period of up to three years. Advocates found that the language of the law was not specific enough to ensure its effective implementation. To remedy this problem, the Citizen’s Advocacy Office (CAO), an Albanian NGO, was funded by USAID to draft a specific law on violence in the family. CAO involved women’s NGOs within the Network against Gender Based Violence and Trafficking to participate in the process. CAO also initiated a public awareness campaign to generate public support for the new draft law on violence in the family. CAO gathered 20,000 signatures and presented those signatures with the draft law to the Albanian Parliament in the summer of 2006. However, the new draft law had not been properly registered under the rules.
Several international agencies and organizations, including the Embassy of The Netherlands, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), USAID, and the Center for Legal Civic Initiatives supported by World Learning, stepped in to advocate for the approval of the new law. The law was properly registered and presented to the Albanian Parliament for approval. Several experts who had been involved in the process followed the law through various parliamentary hearings until it was eventually approved on December 18, 2006. The Law no. 9669 “On Measures against Violence in Family Relation” entered into force on June 1, 2007, which was the first citizen’s bill presented to the Albanian Parliament.
Once the law was in effect, legal experts worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to ensure that implementing regulations were drafted and that governmental ministries had made commitments to endorse the regulations. By the end of 2008, each of the five ministries – the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Education – had signed a memorandum of understanding on the implementation of the law. One of the NGOs involved in the process of advocating for the law against violence in the family, Refleksione, attributed the eventual success to the open and consultative process and involvement of women’s NGOs with experience in working with the victims of domestic violence.
See: Response from Refleksione (February 2010); The Women’s Legal Rights Initiative Final Report, USAID (January 2007).