WEBSITE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL AND MINISTRY OF JUSTICE AND LEGAL AFFAIRS
By Chesil Hamilton
Information Officer, Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs
The launch of a new website catering for the sharing of information about the Office of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs is part and parcel of a new trend and thrust by the nation’s Attorney General Hon Vincent Byron Jr. This is coming at a time when the virtues of promoting freedom of information culture are being embraced and fostered by the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis.
As the Government moves to operationalize the Freedom of Information Act, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice is mindful of the first tier obligation contemplated by Section 18 of the Act. That section provides that all public bodies are to proactively share certain fundamental aspects of their operations with the public without waiting for requests from persons to do so.
This is regarded as a baseline threshold in regard to the rights of individuals to information about public bodies. The next natural threshold arises where persons can make specific requests and be assured of being provided with such information; subject to certain limitations.
Freedom of Information comes within the purview of the Ministry of Justice. In this regard, the website of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs is seeking to lead by example by developing a platform on which to initiate and build the capacity for satisfying the requirements of Section 18 of the Act.
At the point of its launch, the website will seek to cater to the main elements of Section 18 and will continue to pursue a path towards a more fulsome reflection of the parameters set out in that section. At the outset, therefore, the site features overview information regarding the Office of the Attorney General as well as overview information regarding the various departmental responsibilities of the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs. It will also provide a source of news and other miscellaneous content providing further insight into the operations and activities coming within the purview of both Cabinet portfolios.
In relation to the Office of the Attorney General, details are provided as follows:
• The Attorney General’s Chambers
• The services provided by the Solicitor General and other Counsel within the Chambers; including the significant role played by Parliamentary Counsel in furtherance of the legislative agenda of the Government
• The independent role and function of the Director of Public Prosecutions
• The independent role and function of the Electoral Office
In relation to the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, details are provided giving insight into the operations of the following entities and departments:
• The High Court
• The Magistrates Department
• The Land Registry Department
• The Legal Aid and Advice Centre
• The Intellectual Property Office; and
• The Law Commission
As time goes by, every effort will be made to provide additional information in order to give greater effect to the provisions of Section 18 of the Freedom of Information Act. It is envisaged that the website will serve as a precursor for crossing the next threshold of obligations under the Act; whereby public bodies will be in a position to respond to specific requests for information.
In this regard, the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs is pursuing the requisite preparatory work behind the scenes to enable government to realize this aspect of its good governance agenda. As of April 2019, the services of an Information Officer have been engaged to begin the process of crystallizing the administrative rules and protocols that would be required in order to give effect to full implementation.
Hence, in the not too distant future, St. Kitts and Nevis can be assured of joining other progressive nations across the world in championing the right to information as a fundamental aspect of responsible government.
[Chesil Hamilton was appointed as Information Officer in the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs in March 2019 with a view to begin a process of preparation for the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act No 6 of 2018, as well as to promote greater information sharing in relation to the Office of the Attorney general and Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs]