Post-Legislative Scrutiny (PLS) is the process through which Parliament reviews and evaluates the efficiency and impact of a law after it comes into practice. This work is usually conducted by committees, who may then recommend to amend the law or the way it is implemented. In this blog, we answer seven questions on the purpose, principles, and best practice for Post-Legislative Scrutiny.
Why does PLS matter?
Post-Legislative Scrutiny is an essential part of ensuring the effectiveness of legislation. A law only begins having its full effect on society after it has been approved and becomes enforced. It is often only then that its efficiency and impact, including its unintended consequences, start becoming apparent.
PLS enables Parliament to review the effects of these laws once they have become observable. It is also an opportunity to examine the experience of those affected by the law. It promotes an end-to-end legislative process which allows post-implementation follow-up to ensure that a law achieves its originally intended purpose, but which can also be used to highlight its successes to identify future best practice and lessons for upcoming legislation.
What are the core principles of PLS?
Some time should be allowed to pass between a law comes into force and the undertaking of PLS in order to allow its effects to become observable. In the UK, this period usually takes three to five years.
The methods used should be similar to those required for oversight or policy enquiries, and will commonly call for the same committee that oversees the related policy area. The functioning of committees during oversight and policy enquiries is outlined in more details in our GTP 2, “How Parliaments Work: Parliamentary Processes and Procedures“.
What criteria should PLS be checking for?
The PLS enquiry should first gather the factual information it needs about the legislation, such as when and how each of its provisions came into operation, whether some did not, or whether any associated legislation, guidance, or research was produced in connection with the law.
Some key questions it may wish to ask include:
- Has the law met its policy objectives?
- Has the law had any unintended consequences? Has it impacted differentially, or perhaps unfairly, on different groups within society?
- What has been the administrative impact of legislation?
- Has the way in which the law was put into practice caused any problems? What good practice and other lessons can be learned from the implementation of the law?
- Is the law clear, unambiguous and well-drafted?
- Does the law complement or conflict with other laws and policies?
- Is there sufficient knowledge and understanding of the law?
- Has the funding for implementation been sufficient? Has the law provided good value for money?
- Has the political and legal context changed so that the law is no longer needed?
What issues should be considered before diving into PLS?
Unfortunately, time and resources are often limited in parliaments. Laws requiring scrutiny may not always fit in the busy schedule of MPs. Therefore, PLS should be planned realistically so as to account for the natural focus of parliamentary work on current legislation and policy.
Still in the spirit of optimising time while keeping on track with the goal of PLS, the enquiry should not be an occasion to revive the debates that took place when the law was originally discussed. This is a time to assess the effectiveness of the Act, not its principles.
Once the right law has been selecting for PLS, parliamentarians should keep the broader picture in mind: laws do not exist in isolation and some related legislation may need to be taken into account.
Finally, when approaching Post-Legislative Scrutiny, parliaments should consider piloting different approaches to PLS so as to figure out which one is best effective for them and can be adopted as the standard model.
How should parliamentarians choose the law to be scrutinised?
A piece of legislation best suited for PLS should have come into operation long enough ago. Politically contentious laws so as not to revive or start new debates. As MPs are unlikely to have enough time to systematically review all legislation, parliaments may wish to focus on laws that have been flagged as needing PLS, for instance through media coverage, a public petition to Parliament, comments or challenges from members of the judiciary, MPs themselves, or because of a clause within the legislation itself.
Where should the committee seek to gather information?
Committees should aim to gather information from a varied range of sources so as to avoid incomplete or biased conclusions. Individual complaints can be considered, including those raised by the public to MPs. Committees can also directly seeks the input of the public through opinion polls or by inviting contribution through online social platforms. They may conduct interviews and hearings and identify stakeholders from the Executive, public bodies and institutions, academia, the judiciary, international agencies, Civil Society Organisations, or professional groups or businesses, or they may run in-depth case study of a selected groups, regions, or demographics.
What happens next?
The PLS process leads most commonly to the publication of a report on the committee’s views of the main issues relating to the law, as well as their recommendations moving forward. A report can contain proposals for reform and improvement where needed. It should be comprehensive and based on the data and information gather during the enquiry.
The report should be disseminated and the committee should issue press releases about the publication. Copies should be made available to interested bodies and circulated across Parliament. A copy of the report should be sent to the Government Ministry responsible for the area of policy to which the law in question relates, with a statement stating when they need to respond by. The committee should follow up with relevant parties to ensure that all bodies expected to comment, reply, or act upon the report do so in due time.
GPG and PLS
GPG has incorporated Post-Legislative Scrutiny in a number of our project. In Honduras, we support Parliament in conducting PLS on their legislation on people-trafficking, as part of which the Congress of Honduras heard testimony from victims of people-trafficking about the effectiveness of the law. After the inquiry, the government agreed to provide greater resources to anti-human trafficking organisations. You may read more about our work in Honduras here.
You can read about Post-Legislative Scrutiny in more detail in our Guide to Parliament on PLS.