KINGSTON – The Senate is slated to meet two days this week to facilitate passage of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (Constitutional Amendments) Act 2011 and conclude other matters on the 2010/11 legislative agenda.
The two-day sitting on Thursday March 31 and Friday April 1 was proposed by Leader of Government Business, Senator Hon. Dorothy Lightbourne, following concerns raised by Opposition counterpart, Senator A.J. Nicholson.
Senator Nicholson, at Friday’s March 25 sitting of the Senate, questioned whether members would have adequate time to consider debate and pass the Charter of Rights Bill.
“What we are doing (is) uprooting an entire chapter of our Constitution; this is a seminal moment. So we just want to be assured that the citizens are not going to be short-changed,” he said.
Senator Nicholson further asked what “Constitutional provision or Standing Order Rule requires that a Bill of this nature be passed during a session and that if it goes over that (then) the time begins to run again? I have done my own research and there is no such rule.”
He stated however that the Opposition would not withhold its vote on the matter. “We don’t have a problem, we will vote for it. We are not going to withhold our vote. We have no intention, whatsoever, of withholding our vote,” he declared emphatically.
Senator Lightbourne, in response, said that the matter has been in the public domain for a number of years, pointing to several Commissions constituted to review it, and the subsequent Joint Select Committee of Parliament, established to do further work on the issue. “It’s nothing new to (any) of us in this room, even if that person did not sit on a committee,” she said.
She noted further that Parliament will be prorogued soon and "everything that’s on the Order Paper now will fall off. We don’t want to be going through the process of going back to the House of Representatives to lay the Bill again…I don’t think that’s in the public’s interest. This Bill is the work of the Opposition and Government. This Charter of Rights has been promised to the nation for a long time…and I think that now is the time that we move forward with this Bill, so we seek the cooperation we would like to get this through."
On Tuesday March 22 members of the House of Representatives stood in unison to pass the Charter of Rights Bill.
The Bill is to replace Chapter Three of the Jamaican Constitution and will guarantee local citizens certain fundamental rights, including protectionof 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, among other things.
Other matters to be dealt with by the Senate over the two days are the Foreign Nationals and Commonwealth Citizens Employment (Amendment) Act 2011 and the report of Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on the Review of Jamaica’s Defamation Laws.
By DOUGLAS McINTOSH, JIS Reporter