The Law-Making Process


The Law-Making Process

Law, as the overt expression of the general will of the society, is significant for the peace, order and good governance of any society.

But laws must be made first before they can be enforced, or their principles form the basis of interpretation. Law-making is cumbersome and procedural.

Thus, law-making is the most important function of the legislature since its success or failure is measured by the numbers and types of bills it passed, motions it moved and resolutions it adopted.

To be effective, every legislative assembly should have established procedure for the orderly conduct of its proceedings.

The procedures are usually derived from the standing rules/Orders, and rulings by the presiding officer and guided by the relevant constitutional provisions.

This article, therefore, examines the law-making procedure usually followed by the parliament or legislature of any country.


Table of Content

By the end of this article, you will be able to:

1. Explain the major stages of lawmaking in a parliament

2. Identify the law-making process at the local government level

3. Differentiate the law-making process between an elected parliament and a military government.

 Read On: What are the functions of legislative branch?

The Process of Law-Making in a Parliament

A bill normally passes through many stages before it becomes an act or law. In most cases, modifications are made in the original bill during its consideration by the legislature before it becomes law.

The process involved in law-making in a democratic system of government includes the stages stated below:


First Reading

A printed copy of the proposed bill is presented to the House through the clerk. The Clerk reads the short-title of the bill to let lawmakers know it was received. This stage involves the introduction of the bill with a title and no discussion on it.

The order of business for the day will give the name of the Minister responsible for the bill. Members are also given copies of the document to enable them to begin private or party discussion on it.

The Rules and Business Committee will then fix a convenient date for the second reading. Usually, members are given sufficient time to fully study and digest the bill before the appointed date when a detailed consideration of the bill is carried out. It is important to stress that the first reading is a mere formality for notification since no discussion of bill is done.


Second Reading

At this point, a full parliamentary debate on the content of the bill is allowed. The sponsor of the bill will introduce and explain the bill. He will then move a motion that the bill is read the second time. 

This must be duly seconded. Members are then allowed to robustly debate the bill at plenary, that is the entire membership of a Legislative House. This is a critical stage when a bill may survive, be killed or amended. 

After a thorough debate of the bill has been done, the presiding officer, either the President of the Senate in the Upper House or the Speaker of the House of Representatives will call for a vote on whether the bill should be read. 

If it succeeds, that is if the majority of the members support the bill, it is then read for the second time and referred to a committee of the House responsible for the subject matter of the bill for further consideration. 

The Rules Committee will then refer the bill to the Committee for further consideration.


Committee Stage

Committee stage is the next after the second reading. There are two types of committees in most parliaments i.e. a standing committee and a committee of the whole house. Bills of technical or specialized nature are referred to the standing committee.

Usually, there are committees constituted to handle technical subjects like aviation, education, foreign affairs etc. and members are often assigned into committees where they have specialties, which they can bring to bear on deliberations at the committee stage.

There are other situations when the committee of the whole house will sit to consider a bill of special significance. To indicate that the house is at the committee of the whole stage, the mace, which is the symbol of authority of the house, is lowered or placed under the table.

At this stage, members of the house are also free to speak more than once, since enforcement of the standing rules, which guide deliberations at plenary are relaxed. It should be noted that the bulk of work on a bill is done at this stage when it is considered clause by clause.

The bill is given special attention at this stage.

The job of the Committee in the law-making process is to examine the bill in detail, hold a public hearing, receive and consider memoranda from the public and propose amendments, if and where necessary.


Report Stage

The Standing Committee then report back to the House the outcome of its deliberations. The bill, as amended at the committee stage, will be circulated to all members and then thoroughly debated upon by the House.

If necessary, there may be further modifications of the committee’s recommendation. A motion will be raised for the adoption of the bill and thereafter it is ready for third reading.


Third Reading

The third reading is a formality because it is minor changes in the wording that is allowed, and the substance (bill) cannot be amended again. Any amendment is usually of a formal nature. After the third reading, a copy of the bill endorsed by the Speaker is forwarded to the Second House.

If the bill is passed without amendments, the originating house is accordingly informed, but if amendments are proposed, the bill together with such amendments are sent back to the First House.


Joint Session

A Joint Session of the two houses will be convened to debate and reconcile the differences if any, between the two legislative houses in a bicameral legislature such as the United States of America or Nigeria.

The harmonized version is then re-presented to the chambers for their respective adoption before the bill is sent to the President in Nigeria and USA or the Queen in the United Kingdom for assent.


Presidential Assent or Veto

If both houses accept the report, a clean copy, signed by the clerks of the two houses and endorsed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate, is submitted to the President for his assent.

In Nigeria, after passing of the bill by both houses, the Assembly Clerk sends it to the President for assent within 30 days. If the President withholds assent at the expiration of the 30 days, the bill, on the support of a two-thirds majority of the members of the two houses automatically becomes law.

In Britain, the Queen of England does not have the power to deny assent to bills already passed by the two houses of parliament.


Law-Making at the Local Government Level

In Nigeria, the local government constitutes the third-tier level of government and usually described as the closest to the grassroots. The local government performs numerous functions and they are specified in the fourth schedule of the 1999 constitution, as amended. To discharge their functions effectively, the local government councils are expected to make bye-laws.

There are three types of draft bye-laws viz: Executive draft bye-law; Member draft bye-law and Private bye-law.


Executive Draft Bye-Law

This is a draft bye-law proposed by the Chairman of the Local Government and forwarded the Legislative arm for consideration and if passed becomes an executive bye-law.


Member Draft By-Law

Member Draft Bye-Law is a draft bye-law initiated by member or group of Members of the Council as legislative proposals of the Members.


Private Draft Bye-Law

A Private Draft bye-law is a draft bye-law other than the ones mentioned above. It could be sponsored by pressure groups like the labour unions, teachers or private individuals, but introduced in council by a member or group of members.

With the adoption of the presidential system of government at that level, the law-making process at the local government level in Nigeria is similar to what obtains at both the federal and state levels, except minor differences and emphasis that are introduced at the

local level to take account of its specific needs and challenges.

First, after a draft bye-law has been introduced into a local government council, any member who wishes to introduce a substantive motion on it shall give notice of such motion by sending a copy of the provisions proposed to be embodied on the bye-law to the clerk in advance. 

The clerk shall cause them to be published for at least 45 days calling for representations from the public.

A copy of the draft bye-law shall be pasted on the Council’s Notice Board at the Local Government Headquarters and at the Local Government Area Offices and District Offices.


Law-Making under a Military Rule

The presence of the legislature is one of the major features that distinguish a democratic government from other forms of governance (including the military rule).

The legislature in a democratic society exists as an independent institution with its unique system, life and process.

Unfortunately, this is not so in a military regime where there is a centralized system of administration based on the unified command structure of the military such as the Supreme Military Council, the Armed Forces Ruling Council, and the Provisional Ruling Council under General Gowon, General Babangida and General Abacha in Nigeria respectively, which had unlimited powers to make laws, which were called decrees at the federal level, and edicts at the state level.

In addition, the military government usually suspends the constitution in part, or in whole, ousts the jurisdiction of the courts to entertain certain cases and make laws to have a retroactive effect or to abridge the fundamental human rights of the citizens.

All these are possible because military rule is an aberration.

In a democratic society, the existence and active involvement of political parties, organs of government and pressure groups allow for more diversified participation and inputs into the law-making process.

The realization that the day of reckoning will certainly come when elected representatives will be required to render an account of their stewardship usually make government officials take the opinion of their constituents and the larger public opinion into account in deciding the type and quality of laws they make.

Read On: The Legislature: Origin, Types, Functions and Importance

Conclusion on the Law-Making Process

Law is useful to any society because it is said to embody the societal reason and value as well as its general ends or purpose. Law in any given society is the expression of the push and pull of social forces in that society, and we cannot explain its substance or its operation without regard to those forces.

The role of the legislators is, no doubt, crucial in moulding the law and its essence, strictly in accordance with the nation’s Constitution.

Our discussions in this unit have focused on law-making which is the core function of the legislature.

The post noted that a bill normally passes through seven stages before it becomes an Act or Law. These stages are crucial because failure to comply with them will render the law a nullity, no matter its intrinsic merit. The procedure is common to all the tiers of government in a democracy, contrary to military regimes, where the whims of the ruler constitute the law.

Post a Comment