Saturday, August 2, 2014

Missing: Constitution (and other laws). If found please return to the people of the Seychelles

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Rules of Law – Behind every passable legal system are Statute Books and Law Reports.

Recently, while in Seychelles, I tried to obtain a copy of the constitution, written in 1993 when the country became a multi-party democracy. I assumed that the original document would be available to view, proudly displayed, perhaps, as a symbol of the steps the country has taken in the last few decades. I was wrong. The constitution isn’t on display and the national archive was unable to produce either the original or a copy. I browsed the bookshops in Victoria, the capital city, many of which are stocked with political and legal literature such as Seychelles Global Citizenby ex-President James Mancham, and Crime and Law in the Seychellesby leading judge Dr S J Bwana – but no copy of the constitution.

Maybe bookshops were a long shot. After all, I don’t know how many bookshops in the US would stock copies of the US Constitution, and the US is not a country that likes to keep quiet about its constitution. So I headed to the law courts, and specifically the constitutional court, which was in session at the time. A fascinating case was being adeptly argued and overseen – it turned on the jurisdiction of the court to hear a case where it was claimed that part of the Elections Act is incompatible with the constitution. Here, surely, I could find a copy of the constitution. No, as it turned out the lawyer I asked just laughed when I asked where I might find a copy. I wouldn’t be able to find one anywhere, he assured me.

I have finally tracked down an electronic copy – partial copies are available online - despite the fact that the government took its version down from its website on May, 4, 2011 (why?!). You can view it here. But this search raised further questions. I have looked, and failed to find, the majority of Seychellois legislation. What is available online relates, for the most part, to international companies doing business in Seychelles. I have looked, and failed to find the majority of Seychellois case law. SAFLII is a fantastic resource, but judgments seem to be few and far between.

So I ask myself this: if I were a Seychellois citizen, where could I find out what the law was so that I was able to follow it? Even if I had easy access to the internet, which most citizens don’t, I still wouldn’t be able to find the legislation, or the precedent which would be used to define whether or not I was guilty in a court of law. It seems obvious – if I can’t find out what I’m not allowed to do, how can I make sure I don’t do it? Being able to know the law is a basic principle of the rule of law, and it seems a sensible one.

In reality it may be difficult to create and manage an archive of every law and a report of every case that could create precedent. To my mind, however, it is a task worth taking on. Without a public record of what the law is, any legal system is fundamentally flawed.


Comments

Maybe we should start looking in the "LOST AND FOUND" box at State House.

You can buy a hard copy of the Constitution from the Seychelles National Library.

Thanks anonymous,
How much is it, and can you post a link to the store, the National Library site seems to be down at the moment:
http://www.national-library.edu.sc/