JIS News

The long awaited Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms took a step closer to passage through Parliament, when the House of Representatives completed the Second Reading of the Bill.
Completion of the debate in the House will have to wait another three months, however, as constitutional changes require that such Bills remain on the table for three months between the First and Second Reading, and another three months between the Second and Third Reading.
The Prime Minister, the Hon Bruce Golding, who tabled the Bill, has been piloting it through the House since the debate started in October, 2009, when the Opposition sought a postponement to January this year, to have the issue of capital punishment addressed at the same time. The debate was further delayed by the need for the three-month wait between Readings.
On Tuesday (December 21), when the debate resumed, Prime Minister Golding noted that changes are being made to the process of appeal by persons on the Death Row.
“There is the proposed amendment to Section 91 of the Constitution to empower the Governor General to set a time limit, that must be not less than 18 months, during which any person who is sentenced to die must commence his petitions to any entity beyond the judicial system,” Mr Golding said.
He added that, if the judicial systems stop at the Privy Council, there will be a period of more than 18 months, during which the convict must commence his petition.
Mr. Golding said that the experience has been that the State has been held hostage by attorneys who have manipulated the process, following the Privy Council ruling on the Pratt and Morgan case, making it impossible to carry out the death penalty.
“It is their job so to do, and lawyers do find ways to ensure that if you need it, the length of time on Death Row can become a considering factor, and that is hy this five-year thing is virtually impossible to achieve,” he observed.
Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Portia Simpson Miller, noted that the Opposition had proposed the removal of the five-year bar to the carrying out the death sentence, based on a recommendation made by the Joint Select Committee which had considered the Bill.
“We have lived with the entire development of this Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and we have always been anxious to support any step to move the process forward. So that all citizens of Jamaica will begin to enjoy wider stand of fundamental rights, modernized and entrenched in the new chapter of the Constitution,” Mrs. Simpson Miller said.
The Charter of Rights provides for the protection of the rights and freedoms of Jamaicans, subject to such measures as are required for state governance in periods of public disaster or emergency, or as are regarded as demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
It also provides for: the protection of life, liberty and the security of the person; freedom of thought, conscience, belief and observance of religious and political doctrines; freedom of expression; the right to seek, distribute or disseminate to any other person information, opinions and ideas through media; and peaceful assembly and association.
The Charter, which will replace Chapter Three of the Jamaican Constitution, has been before Parliament for nearly 17 years.