JIS News

The Senate has approved amendments to the Standing Orders to allow members to join and participate in formal sittings virtually, due to the restrictions caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The Standing Orders are the rules that govern the proceedings, actions and conduct of members in the Chamber.

Piloting the motion during the sitting of the Upper House on May 7, Government Senator Charles Sinclair, said that the move will allow members to participate from remote locations using information and communication technologies (ICT).

He noted that following a comprehensive review, the Standing Orders Committee recommended that the Standing Orders of the Senate be amended by inserting as Order 82b, the following:

“With the permission of the President and the consent of members present in the Chamber, any member may participate in a meeting of the Senate using information and communication technologies. A member who joins a meeting of the Senate using ICT, shall be able to participate in the business of each sitting except to form a quorum, present a bill or a motion or vote.”

Senator Sinclair explained that the limitations to participation using ICT is to remain consistent with the relevant provisions of the Constitution of Jamaica.

He noted that members will be required to adhere to certain protocols, among them that all members must be seen, appropriately attired and they will be subject to all other rules and customs applicable as if they were physically present.

Senator Sinclair pointed out that the provision is tailored to prevent abuse by inclusion of the words “with the permission of the President” and “consent of members present”.

“Regardless of this provision, a quorum of eight must still be physically present in the Senate Chamber to include the President, in order for there to be a meeting,” he said.

Senator Sinclair pointed out that allowing Senators to join sittings virtually,  should prove useful in cases where members, who, for “good and accepted reasons” cannot physically attend the Chamber, will still be able to participate in a meeting of the Senate.

“Today, the crisis is COVID-19, tomorrow it may be some other pandemic or crisis, circumstance or unexpected emergency,” he said.

He noted that  “participation by ICT will be recognised as full participation in so far as the member… shall receive his full benefit as if they had attended the physical sitting.”

In supporting the move, Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, Senator Peter Bunting, suggested that audio-visual screens be provided for presentations.

“To make the contributions as effective as those who are here in person, I think it would be useful if we had some sort of screen…so that you would see the person. In fact, you would have not just audio but you would have audio-visual presentation of the member,” he said.

Senator Sinclair, in response said “there are screens that can be used.”

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