International parliamentary associations broadly agree that citizens should have the right to provide input into the work of the legislature. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has adopted a benchmark stating: “Opportunities shall be given for public input into the legislative process,” an idea echoed by the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum and the Confederation of Parliaments of the Americas. The Treaty on the European Union states, “The institutions shall, by appropriate means, give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their views in all areas of Union action.” According to the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness: “Parliament has a duty to actively engage citizens and civil society, without discrimination, in parliamentary processes and decision-making in order to effectively represent citizen interests and to give effect to the right of citizens to petition their government.”
Many parliaments have recognized the value of actively soliciting citizen input in the legislative process by providing mechanisms for citizens to share their policy ideas, their experiences with a given law, and their expertise on the problems that a given law may seek to address. To provide opportunities for citizen’s input into the law-making process, a simple initial step is to institutionalize public hearings as a method for citizens and CSOs to provide comment on draft legislation. In addition, however, parliaments are increasingly using new technologies to provide new, more robust opportunities for citizens to participate in the law-making process.
Parliaments should adopt mechanisms to receive citizen input into the legislative process. Recommendations include:
- Hold public committee hearings as a means of enabling citizens to provide input on legislation. When focused and structured, public hearings allow parliaments to benefit from the expertise of citizens. By taking testimony from government officials and investigating the use of public funds, public hearings can also demonstrate to the public that parliament is ensuring that government implements policy effectively and in accordance with citizen interests.
- Consider providing opportunities for citizens to submit written comments on draft laws. In some instances, these comments become part of the official record.
- Provide basic support for constituency relations efforts of MPs. Many parliaments provide MPs with a minimum of support to travel to and from their constituencies for the purposes of meeting with constituents. Some also fund constituency offices.