JIS News

The House of Representatives is expected to continue debating the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Constitutional Amendment) Bill next week, unless there is a bipartisan agreement to do otherwise.
At the end of Tuesday’s sitting, the Government seemed set on continuing the debate, to meet a deadline of completion prior to the end of the current parliamentary session next March.
The Opposition, through Member of Parliament for North West St. Catherine, Robert Pickersgill, has asked, however, that the debate be delayed until next January, to facilitate a Bill they are requesting to extend the five-year time limit for death row inmates, imposed by the Privy Council in the much publicised Pratt and Morgan judgment of 1993.
Prime Minister the Hon. Bruce Golding, who is piloting the Bill, opened the debate on Tuesday (October 13), pointing out that, among other changes, it will allow for the entitlement of every citizen, who is registered, to participate and vote in free and fair elections, which is not guaranteed in the Constitution.
“In the present constitution there is no right to travel from Jamaica: there is a right to travel within Jamaica and there is a right to enter Jamaica, but there is no right to leave Jamaica,” the Prime Minister added. However, he admitted that the Bill will not make the Constitution perfect.
“It represents only one part of the constitutional reform programme to which we are committed, and in relation to which a significant degree of agreement exists between the Government and the Opposition and, indeed, among a significant portion of the Jamaican population,” Mr. Golding concluded.
Mr. Pickersgill said that, in light of the length of time that has already passed since the constitutional reform process started some 17 years ago, a further extension to next January would not do much harm.
“Between now and the end of this month, table the amending Bill in this House relating to the death penalty. Secondly, at the end of January next year amalgamate both Bills and debate them and leave them to lie on the table for three more months after that debate to satisfy the dictates of the Constitution,” Mr. Pickersgill suggested.
But Mr. Golding responded by expressing disappointment that the Opposition was calling for a further postponement of the debate.
“I am a bit disappointed that the member in discussions that we have had, before the House convened, did not raise the question of rescheduling the passage of the Bill,” the Prime Minister noted.
“My own comment is that, I hardly think that it would be necessary because, when we conclude the debate on this bill, we still have to wait three months before we can vote on it. Therefore, within that period, the work that we have agreed, about bringing the separate bill, could be done,” Mr. Golding said. Votes in Parliament on Constitutional matters require a three-month delay.
The Bill also 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 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.
Other areas include: the freedom from discrimination, on the grounds of race, social class, colour, religion, gender and place of origin or political preference. It also makes provision for the protection of property rights; protection from searches; respect for private and family life, and privacy of home and of communication; and the entitlement of every child who is a citizen, to publicly funded education, in a public education institution at the pre-primary and primary levels.
The Charter, which will replace Chapter Three of the Jamaican Constitution, has been before Parliament for nearly 17 years.

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