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KINGSTON – Parliament passed the long delayed Charter of Rights Bill, which aims to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of Jamaican citizens, at Gordon House on Tuesday March 22.

The Bill replaces chapter three of the Jamaican Constitution. It received 51 votes from the Members of Parliament (MPs), including the Speaker, the Hon Delroy Chuck. Eight MPs were absent.

The Charter of Rights provides for the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals in cases of:  life, liberty and security of person; freedom of thought, conscience, belief and observance of religious and political doctrines; freedom of expression; the right to seek, distribute or disseminate information, opinions and ideas through any media; freedom of peaceful assembly and association; freedom of movement; due process of law; equality before the law; freedom from discrimination; and protection of property rights.

The Charter of Rights has been before Parliament for nearly 17 years. The current Bill, tabled in 2010, will now go to the Senate for its approval.

During the debate, Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding, disclosed that both the Government and Parliamentary Opposition have agreed to meet to address the issue of the final appellate court for Jamaica, with a view to arriving at a position by June 30.

“This would then allow us to structure a programme, including the other issues on which we have already agreed, other major issues of constitutional reform, so that we could then look at a definite timetable where these issues can be placed before the people and the programme of constitutional reform be substantially achieved,” Mr. Golding said.

Leader of the Opposition, Most Hon Portia Simpson Miller, said that the Opposition had taken the decision to put principle and the interest of the people above party politics.

The Prime Minister had suggested in December the possibility of Jamaica establishing its own final Court of Appeal, as an alternative to the United Kingdom based Privy Council or the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

The CCJ is the regional judicial entity established nine years ago as the final appellate court for the Caribbean Community. Jamaica is a signatory to the establishment of the CCJ, but the country has not utilised the court, and cases are still referred to the Privy Council as the final court of appeal.

                                                        

By LATONYA LINTON, JIS Reporter