CLA News / Honorary Life President R. Santhanakrishnan reports on the Commonwealth Law Ministers meeting, Zanzibar


The Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting (CLMM) takes place biennially. It is an initiative from the Commonwealth Secretariat and is hosted by a Commonwealth jurisdiction. The CLMM supports the promotion of Good Governance, Rule of Law, Human Rights, Access to Justice etc.

This year CLMM was hosted by the United Republic of Tanzania at Zanzibar from 4th to 8th March, 2024. It was formally opened on 4th of March at the hotel Golden Tulip calling for stronger action on the Theme “Technology & Innovation: how digitalization paves the way for people centred access to justice” to all the 2.5 billion people living across the Commonwealth. In her opening address, Her Excellency Samia … Hassan underscored the crucial role of law in dealing with the unprecedented global challenges and described the meeting as a timely opportunity to cooperate on strengthening the legal systems. She emphasized that the meeting should open the doors for further collaboration, innovation and collective action in the process of striving to meet the evolving needs of our societies. Together, she said, we could build a better future, where justice prevails and the rights of every individual are protected  and as to how democracy paves the way to people-centric justice and the use of technology to advance the legal system, while quoting her own Mama-Samia Legal Aid Campaign  across the United Republic of Tanzania.

Earlier the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Baroness Patricia Scotland appealed to the member countries to harness, understand and master the benefits of technology and innovation in breaking down barriers of cost, complexity and delivering legal systems which can meet the justice needs of all, while expressing her gratitude to the United Republic of Tanzania for hosting the 2024 CLMM.

5th March

On 5th March, the CLMM began with the Law Ministers receiving, discussing the theme paper from the United Republic of Tanzania and commending their work on the use of technology and innovation leading to improvement in the efficiency, reduction of costs and a simplified legal processes in the Tanzanian Judicial System.

The Law Ministers had an overview of the work undertaken by the ComSec in the last two years that included the CHOGM mandates like, Equal Access to Justice Declaration & Plan, Cyber Declaration & the Latimer House Principles and on considering the proposed programmes, to report at the next CLMM the progress on the last two years, including Commonwealth Best Practice Guide on Access to Justice, the Commonwealth Chief Justices’ Forum and the Commonwealth People Centred Justice Working Group.

The Law Ministers received a report of the inaugural of meeting of the Law Ministers Action Group (LMAG) that was held in November 2023 that included promoting member countries towards realization of UN’s SDG 16 targets and towards implementation of the decisions, declarations and action plans adopted earlier. They also welcomed the proposals for (a) AI powered drafting tool-kit for the Legislative Drafter, (b) Legal Information Repository, (c) A project aimed at assisting member countries in their efforts to digitise their courts and (d) SG’s Pro Bono Committee that will collectively advice and support nascent pro bono activities. And to report progress.

In the strive towards digitalization ‘the Commonwealth Draft Model on Virtual Assets was presented by ComSec that complies with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) etc., and the Law Ministers advised to continue monitoring emerging trends and that the member states may utilize the model law at their discussion.

As Mediation was pitching for its place, besides technology, towards people-centric access to justice, the ComSec presented to the Law Ministers ‘The Commonwealth Guide to Mediation’, as also ‘Case Management’. The significance for alternative modes of dispute resolution was noted and in that light the development of mediation guide was commended. All the Law Ministers were encouraged to Sign and Ratify the Singapore Convention on Mediation.

6th March

On 6th March the presentation and discussions were on Mapping a people-centred justice approach to access to justice. This began with remarks from the Chief Justice of Kenya, Justice Martha Koome, where she highlighted the work undertaken in Kenya. The deliberations were centred on innovative pathways to shape the future of law and governance and to close the justice gap and that the solutions should be contextual, data driven and demonstrate potential for expansion or replication.

In alignment with the ComSec mandate to protect vulnerable groups, the Law Ministers received a paper addressing online violence against women and girls and on the role of the bystanders. And steps to be taken by member states to prioritise efforts to address this serious problem and in that direction also to take legislative steps and towards development of Commonwealth Action Plan. They noted the proposed project on equality in law for women and girls and invited the ComSec to report progress. The Law Ministers also received a paper to ensure access to justice for persons with disabilities and towards strengthening National Laws and to ensure they align with International Standards. Keeping in mind the CHOGM mandate, member countries were ‘urged to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

To facilitate collaboration and engagement across the Commonwealth, the Law Ministers received 4 electronic resources developed by ComSec to facilitate knowledge and information sharing that included (a) The Commonwealth Data-base on International Cooperation in Criminal Matters; (b) The Commonwealth Cyber Repository; (c) Commonwealth E-course on Cyber and (d) the Commonwealth Small Claims Court App. Recognizing the importance, the Law Ministers noted that these resources will assist officials to manage a range of legal problems efficiently and swiftly.

As Climate Change and its consequences are staring at our societies across the globe, the Law Ministers received papers on Energy and Extractives which highlighted the work on natural resources programme to assist member countries to responsibly manage natural resources and the energy transition for the present and future generations. They emphasized the need to strengthening legal frame work for natural resources and towards protecting the environment and communities, limit climate change and just energy transition. Steps towards Commonwealth Model Law and guidelines to support member countries were encouraged and welcomed.

7th March

On 7th March the presentations and deliberations were on artificial intelligence and justice system. Both the potential and the risks posed by AI was discussed. Prof. Richard Susskind through his online presentation expounded as to how automation and innovation through technology leads to exponential growth and could lead to improve justice system and warned as to how it is little scary without finishing any line, in as much as today a machine could read human mind. While emphasizing the importance of change in the justice system, the Prof. Susskind said that AI will definitely empower citizen and it will be an enabler of Rule of Law. While technology could produce massive wealth, it would be important to see how the societies manages its distribution. The Law Ministers appreciated the ComSec’s assistance in developing a comprehensive approach which integrates AI and virtual technology in building capacity of legal sector and to achieve efficient justice delivery.

The Law Ministers were briefed on the progress made in Military Justice Transformation Project that commenced at the earlier CLMM and invited representatives to be nominated to the working group to draft the Commonwealth Military Justice Principles & Model Law.

The Law Ministers also discussed a draft guidelines on the treatment of electronic evidence in criminal proceedings across the Commonwealth. This was to ensure that ‘electronic evidence can safely and securely relied upon in domestic criminal proceedings.’  While commending the guidelines it was hoped that it would ‘shape the future of electronic evidence legislation in the Commonwealth.’ They also adopted guidelines on treatment of electronic evidence in the criminal proceedings as a Commonwealth Guide.

The Law Ministers also received a paper on open source evidence and ‘noted the challenge of authenticating open- source evidence in new digital age’. They requested ComSec to carry out a need based analysis and to review the existing legislation, ‘to identify gaps and good practices’ and to give ‘concrete solutions at the next meeting’.

They also received information papers on model provision on ‘the Abuse of Positions of Trust, the Climate Change Advisory Opinion, a Progress Report on the Practice Guide on Decriminalization of Poverty and Status, and also the Commonwealth Access to Justice Innovation Award’. The SG updated the Law Ministers on the Climate Change initiatives undertaken by ComSec.

At this stage the meeting invited reports from partner organizations. The Commonwealth Association of Law Reform Agencies (CALRA), the Commonwealth Association of Legislative Counsel (CALC), the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute (CJEI), the Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA), the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) the International Red Cross & the British Red Cross (IRC/BRC), the Commonwealth Magistrates & Justices Association (CMJA)  and the Commonwealth Legal Education Association (CLEA).

The proposed project on Child Care & Protection Reform was presented to Law Ministers on behalf of CLA. It was received by the Law Ministers for the CLA to report in due course on its progress. Apropos to the theme of the CLMM, the work done by Legal Technology Committee was shared. It was also an occasion to share the work on Mediation supported by CLA, where  a 10 day Summer School on Mediation was hosted in the past few years, as were also Guest Lectures to promote mediation by the Mediators of the Supreme Court of India.  This was also an occasion to share the excellent work done by the CLA’s Climate Change Committee, highlighting the recently held Borneo Rainforest Law Conference, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia and the ‘Sabah Declaration’ at the end of the conference.

An interesting aspect of the CLMM was the side events. This time the events were on Innovation, Barefoot Law, Ballots to Benches and the Role of Judiciary in strengthening Democracy, Legal Reform and Digitalisation, Legal Reforms towards smooth transition to Paperless Trade etc. We as CLA represent the legal fraternity from across the Commonwealth and if we have something innovative towards the cause of Access to Justice that can be shared in these side events during the course of CLMM.

On 7th day of the CLMM, the Secretary General hosted a Reception on the Sea side of Conference Hotel Mora. At the reception she announced Commonwealth Access to Justice Innovation Awards.

Rwanda Justice Ministry won 3 awards

First In recognition of Abunzi (Mediators) Committee Project where traditional methods of conflict resolution to settle disputes at the grass roots level to foster community cohesion.

Second for ‘Integrated Electronic Case Management Systems where it streamlines the judicial process through Automation.

Thirdly the Registrar of the Magistrate’s Court received an award for the vision on Social  transformation  through a simpler, faster & cheaper substitute for resolution of disputes.

SG also announced two  Pro Bono Heroes Awards:

A Ugandan Nonprofit organization, ‘Barefoot Law ‘ for using Technology to provide legal support for I million people in Uganda.

Also an award to an Australian expert Loretta Joseph based in Mauritius for her inter disciplinary work in developing a legal framework for virtual assets.

The five day CLMM reached its grand finale on 8th March, 2024 and again it was held at hotel Golden Tulip, where it was formally closed by His Excellency Dr. Hussein Ali Mwinyi, the President of Zanzibar addressing the Commonwealth Law Minister Meeting (CLMM).

R. Santhanakrishnan

CLA Honorary Life President