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The electronic edition of enactments published on the web portal of the Attorney-General’s Office recognised as the official text of those enactments

By Arvin Halkhoree

The Revision of Laws Act 1974 was amended by the Revision of Laws (Amendment) Act 2022; the latter came into operation on 6 April 2022. The Revision of Laws (Amendment) Act 2022 adds a new section 4B which provides for the recognition of electronic revised editions of laws and regulations. The explanatory memorandum of this amendment provides that the main object of this amendment is to provide that an electronic revised edition of all acts of parliament, including regulations, proclamations, and reprints “shall be published on the web portal of the Attorney-General’s Office and that these enactments included in the electronic revised edition shall, for all purposes, with effect from the date on which they are published on the web portal of the Attorney-General’s Office (a) be regarded as equivalent to the enactments included in a revised edition and shall be deemed to be the official text of the enactments so published; and (b) be taken to be the laws of Mauritius”. The explanatory memorandum further provides that this “electronic revised edition will be free of charge and any user will, over and above of viewing the laws of Mauritius on the web portal, be able to print a copy thereof”.

In his address to the National Assembly, the Attorney-General stated that this electronic revised edition would contain a QR code on every page of every legislation and a digital signature will be provided. Users, both local and international, will be able to search and print legislations. The web portal will be designed to enable viewing on multiple devices. The electronic version  of enactments will, according to the Attorney-General, be updated, consolidated and revised so that any amendments brought to any legislation will not be overwritten but instead be uploaded as a new version with previous versions still being available.

The electronic revised edition of laws will co-exist alongside its paper counterpart which is printed in volumes, in loose leaf form. The paper printed version becomes obsolete as soon as it is published. There are regular supplements in loose leaf which are printed in an attempt to update the printed version. However, these supplements also suffer from the same fate as the printed editions; they become outdated  by the time they get published. The electronic version benefits from the advantage of being amended as and when there are changes being brought to the enactments. The user thus has access to the most updated edition of our laws.

The Supreme Court website provides for an electronic version of enactments but this version is an “unofficial version” and it is only the revised edition which is the “sole official text” having authoritative value. The 2022 amendment recognises the electronic version which will be published on the web portal of the Attorney-General’s Office as an official text, and as such will be authoritative in a court of law.

For the printed paper edition, the Attorney-General is required under section 4(2)(b) to embody within that printed edition which enactments have been omitted under section 4(2)(a). Under the new section 4B(2), the Attorney-General is empowered to require the Law Revision Unit to omit  an enactment in the preparation of the electronic version. However, the Attorney-General is not required to provide for a statement indicating which enactments have been so omitted from the electronic version of the said revised edition.

Moreover, section 6 of the Revision of Laws Act entitled “Change in substance” allows the Attorney-General to authorise the Law Revision Unit to make changes in the substance of an enactment for the purpose of a revised edition. However, such a power has not been conferred on the Attorney-General when it comes to the electronic version of the revised edition of enactments.

It is apposite to note that section 4(5) of the Revision of Laws Act provides that the paper version of the revised edition shall be “the sole official text of the enactment included in it” and shall be taken as the law of Mauritius. Under the new section 4B(5) of this law, the electronic revised version shall be regarded as equivalent to the enactments included in the printed paper version of the revised edition and shall be deemed to be the official text of the enactments so published. The immediate question which arises is how to cure an inconsistency between the printed version of the revised edition and the electronic version of the printed version. A reading of the above sections suggest that it is the paper printed version which is the “sole official text”. The Attorney-General in his address to the National Assembly has stated that it is for the courts to cure such an inconsistency. There are a number of decided cases where the courts were called upon to decide in the face of inconsistencies in enactments.

The Revision of Laws Act should be read in conjunction with the Reprint of Laws Act which empowers the Prime Minister to give written direction to the Government Printer to reprint an enactment with a minor amendment or in a consolidated form either with the amendments made to it or with enactments in pari materia and necessary consequential changes to reflect the state of the law on the day the reprint is published in the Gazette. The term “minor amendment” has been defined as “the correction of clerical, printing and stylistic errors in the text of an enactment printed in the Gazette or in a revised edition”. Section 5 of the Reprint of Laws Act provides that “where an enactment is reprinted … the reprinted text shall, from the date it appears in the Gazette, be the official text of the enactment”.

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