- Commonwealth initiatives
- The Commonwealth Secretariat’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Division (LCAD) which facilitates cooperation among member countries in the areas of constitutional and international law, the development and administration of systems of justice, and in combating serious and transnational crime
- The Commonwealth Legal Advisory Service (CLAS) which provides legal advisory and research services on request to attorneys-general, other government agencies and official law reform agencies in the Commonwealth
- The Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute (CJEI) established to provide support for the creation and strengthening of national judicial education bodies and to encourage regional and pan-Commonwealth networking and exchange of human and material resources
- The Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association (CMJA) which provides a network for judicial officers in Commonwealth countries in order to assist them to advance the administration of justice
- The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, an international NGO that works for the practical realisation of human rights throughout the Commonwealth.
The legal sector in the Commonwealth
The vast majority of legal systems in the Commonwealth are founded on English common law. Where it is purely not the case, the system is applied in parallel or interlocked with other legal systems such as civil law, customary law and Shariah. Common law, indeed a time-honoured vestige of British colonial rule, is a system of law based on judges’ decisions and on custom rather than on written laws. A number of legal texts have argued that when purely applied, common law systems provide for better property rights, create a more powerful judicial branch and provide for a more relevant application of the law in ever evolving society*.
Qualification of a legal practitioner in all Commonwealth countries requires at least a law degree and/or post-graduate legal qualifications and experience. Qualification is often regulated by the local profession itself through a bar association and/or a law society. Some Commonwealth countries recognise legal qualifications from fellow member states, including but not confined to the Caribbean and other smaller developing states. The role of barrister as opposed to solicitor has evolved to become indistinguishable in many countries (excepting for instance England and Wales, parts of Australia, Samoa and South Africa) where a practising legal practitioner is both. Traditionally, barristers are confined to the world of litigation whereas a solicitor’s work involves direct consultation with a client, at the same time varying greatly, especially the level of specialisation in a solicitor’s firm. In some countries lawyers can only practice in the level of court to which they are admitted. In Pakistan for example, there is hierarchy of qualification, four levels altogether, with a senior advocate of the Supreme Court right at the top and at the lowest entry level, advocate.
* Overall though, it must be mentioned, the strengths of a common law system over other systems can, to an extent, be counterbalanced by its weaknesses.
Commonwealth initiatives: Organisations
Key Commonwealth organisations working in the legal area include: