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KINGSTON – Prime Minister, the Hon Bruce Golding, says that Parliament will vote next Tuesday March 22 on the long delayed Charter of Rights Bill, which aims to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of Jamaican citizens.

The Bill provides for the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals, subject to such measures as are required for state governance in periods of public disaster or emergency, or are regarded as demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

The protected rights include: 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.

Prime Minister Golding, while making the disclosure in the House of Representatives last Tuesday March 15, noted that in order to have the Bill passed before the 2010/11 parliamentary year is prorogued, it was necessary to have the vote on Tuesday.

“The three month period has expired, and then it has to go to the Senate,” Mr. Golding reminded the House.

The Bill will require a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament, which means that it will need the support of the Opposition members of the House of Representatives. However, this is likely after collaboration between both political parties following the vote on the death penalty.

Mr. Golding had closed debate on the Bill in the House in November, but it had been constitutionally required to sit on the table of Parliament for another three months before the vote. The Charter would replace Chapter III of the Constitution.                                                                    

Mr. Golding has pointed out that, if the Bill does not get the two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, it would need a 60% majority in a referendum.

The Charter Bill is the product of a very long parliamentary process dating back to the early post-independence period when Government, having recognized the need for reform of aspects of the Constitution to meet the need of post independent Jamaica, appointed a Constitutional Commission to examine various issues.

A Joint Select Committee of the House of Parliament was appointed with a mandate to undertake such reform. The Constitutional Commission made recommendations to the Joint Select Committee which, in turn, presented its final report to Parliament for approval.

In the 1990s, the Government decided that, pending more comprehensive amendments to the Constitution, it was desirous to give effect to the proposals emanating from the Final Report, relating to the fundamental rights and freedoms which would constitute a guarantee by the State to preserve and protect those rights and freedoms.

A Bill to that effect was considered by successive Joint Select Committees of Parliament, which recommended various amendments. The report of the latest committee was tabled, but the dissolution of Parliament prevented any further action.

The current Government decided to table a new Bill which incorporated the recommendations made by the Joint Select Committee, as well as other amendments.

It was also decided that, following upon Parliamentary deliberations on the previous Bill and the outcome of a free conscience vote of Parliament, which determined that the death penalty should be retained, the new Bill modified previously tabled provisions to counter the effect of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council’s decision in the case of Pratt and Morgan. This would ensure that none of the following circumstances would be held to be inconsistent with the provisions relating to protection from torture or inhuman or degrading punishment, namely:

(a)    The conditions under which persons sentenced to death are detained pending execution of the sentence; and

(b)   The length of time which elapses between the date on which the sentence is imposed and the date on which the sentence is executed.

                                                       

By BALFORD HENRY, JIS Editor & Reporter