The process of creating a new law in South Africa
The law-making process in South Africa is the cornerstone of democracy. It promotes transparency and openness in Government and ensures that laws are enacted in a way that is fair and just to all the citizens of South Africa.
“It’s about checks and balances,” says Sanet Vos, Sabinet’s Head of Product. “The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 is one of the most respected constitutions in the world. It dictates, among other things, how Parliament and provincial legislatures must make laws. There are also the relevant Rules of Parliament and the conventions of the other legislatures that have a bearing on law-making.”
Parliament has the power to pass new laws, amend existing laws and repeal old laws. The provinces exercise the same power for provincial laws and municipal councils in the local sphere.
“It is a systematic process, beginning with draft legislation, first called a Draft Bill, and later a Bill which must be formally submitted to Parliament before it can become law. Most Bills are prepared by Government departments under the direction of their Ministers. The preparation of a Bill involves investigation and evaluation of the legislative proposals and consultation with interested parties,” explains Vos.
The Draft Bill may include a Green Paper, which is a discussion document on policy options published for comment and ideas. If Government feels it is necessary, a White Paper may be issued, which is a broad statement of Government policy. Comment may be invited for input from civil society and interested parties.
Before the submission is formalised, the state law advisers must be approached to certify the Draft Bill and ensure it is in line with existing law and the provisions of the Constitution. Once all relevant inputs have been taken into account, the Draft Bill and an explanatory memorandum are submitted to Cabinet for approval to introduce the Bill in Parliament.
The Constitution distinguishes between four categories of Bills:
- Section 74 Bills – Bills that amend the Constitution;
- Section 75 Bills – ordinary Bills not affecting provinces;
- Section 76 Bills – ordinary Bills affecting provinces; and
- Section 77 Bills – money Bills that deal with appropriations, taxes, levies and duties.
The Constitution also prescribes the parliamentary process through which each of these categories of Bills must go before they can be passed by Parliament and become law. Once a Bill has been introduced, it is referred to the Joint Tagging Mechanism for classification into one of the four categories.
The Bill then becomes part of the National Assembly programme for a first reading debate, whereafter it is referred to a portfolio committee of the National Assembly. If there is public interest in a Bill, the committee may organise public hearings to allow interested parties to submit written comments and sometimes make oral representations on the provisions of the Bill.
A second reading followed by a vote enables the Bill to be referred to the National Council of Provinces, which represents the interests of the nine provinces of South Africa. Voting is conducted according to which Section the Bill falls under and follows the same procedure as the National Assembly.
The final step is for the President of South Africa to sign the Bill. A Bill that has been assented to and signed becomes an Act of Parliament and must be published in the Gazette shortly thereafter. An Act becomes binding on everyone when it is published or on a date determined in the legislation.
“Legislation is one of the most important tools of Government in organising society and protecting citizens. Making new laws is a long process involving different stages during which key issues are debated and negotiated before the law is passed.
“The law-making process is an essential component of democracy. The process ensures that new laws are in line with the Constitution and that new laws do not violate the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
“South African citizens have several important rights in the promulgation of laws, ensuring that the law-making process is transparent, accountable, legitimate and responsive to the needs and concerns of all South Africans,” concludes Vos.
Click here for Sabinet’s handy guide on the law-making process in South Africa.