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2. How we work

At present, there are four drafting teams of Parliamentary Counsel, each of which drafts the legislation administered by a number of Government departments and agencies.

Parliamentary Counsel

Consultation and team work are important features of the work. Through regular drafting group meetings, each team discusses priorities, drafting practices, feedback on courses and seminars, and the allocation and progress of work.

Our aims are to provide a high quality legislative drafting service and to ensure that legislation is clearly expressed and readily accessible. It is vital that the legislation we draft makes Parliament's intentions clear and is not open to misinterpretation. If legislation is uncertain, it may require expensive and time-consuming litigation to determine its meaning and scope.

The life of a Bill

The programme of Bills to be drafted is set by Cabinet at the start of each year. A Bill can only be drafted once it has been included in the legislative programme, all policy decisions have been made, and the relevant department has prepared and sent drafting instructions to the Office.

Often this means dealing with changes in policy and suggesting possible alternative approaches

Parliamentary Counsel produce a first draft of the Bill based on those instructions. This will usually involve discussion with the department concerned to clarify issues and refine the policy. Often this means dealing with changes in policy and suggesting possible alternative approaches.

Once a draft Bill is agreed with a department, it is sent to other departments with an interest in matters the Bill deals with. Their comments have to be considered and, where appropriate, included in a further draft.

The drafting process involves continuous revision and, for large and complex Bills, the drafting process can take months. When the drafting of a Bill is complete, it is referred to Cabinet, which must approve it before it can be introduced into Parliament.

Most Bills are referred to select committees for detailed consideration. Select committees receive submissions and hear evidence from the public and organisations that have a particular interest in a Bill.

A Bill on an iPad and printed

Select committee consideration can often result in extensive changes to a Bill. Parliamentary Counsel are present at some of the meetings when evidence is being heard and always attend meetings at which changes to a Bill are considered. They give advice on drafting and related legal issues, and draft the amendments to the Bill that the select committee wishes to make.

When the select committee has completed its consideration of a Bill, it reports the Bill back to the House for the committee stages and third reading. The committee stages of a Bill provide a further opportunity for changes. Parliamentary Counsel prepare amendments required by the Government and advise the responsible Minister on amendments proposed by other Members. Amendments to Bills sometimes have to be drafted on the spot.

Legislative Instruments

Parliamentary Counsel also draft Legislative Instruments. In general, Legislative Instruments deal with the detailed implementation of Acts of Parliament. Drafting Legislative Instruments can be just as challenging as drafting Bills.

Drafting Legislative Instruments can be just as challenging as drafting Bills

Legislative Instruments are important because often it is through Legislative Instruments made under an Act that the Act impacts directly on individuals and organisations in society. Legislative Instruments on overseas investment, fisheries, the disclosure of information by providers of essential services such as telecommunications and electricity, and health and safety in the workplace are examples. They can vary from the simple and straightforward to the large, complex, and difficult to draft.

Legislative Instruments must be drafted so as to withstand challenge in the courts on the ground that they are not authorised by the Act under which they are made. This frequently raises interesting and often difficult legal questions for a Parliamentary Counsel.

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