KINGSTON — The Senate stamped its seal of approval on the monumental Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Bill on Friday April 1, after two days of meetings at Gordon House.
The Upper Chamber followed the trend set by the Lower House last week, with all members present, Government and Opposition, voting in favour of the provisions of the Charter, but a small number abstaining from the vote on aconstitutional amendment to nullify the 1993 Privy Council’s ruling in the Pratt and Morgan case setting a five-year limit.
The Charter will repeal and replace chapter three of the Jamaican Constitution, and makes provisions for life, liberty and security of individuals, freedom of assembly and association and respect for private and family life.
It 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 as are required as demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
Government Senator, Tom Tavares-Finson, in his contribution to the debate, contended that with the passage of the charter, the Government will be required to ensure that the particulars are engrained in the life of every Jamaican citizen, particularly the young.
“I think that we need to break down the Charter of Rights – the agencies who are responsible for such matters…in such a way that our kids can recite it and that the tenets of the charter become engrained into the national psyche,” he said.
He stated that with the passage of the Bill, it was now be necessary for Jamaicans to begin to take constitutional issues to the courts.
“Let us begin to develop a body of laws and of precedence that interpret this document, and create a system where the document becomes a living document, in the sense that the courts can adjudicate on it on a regular basis and a body of precedence and law can be developed around it,” he said.
Opposition Senator, Sandrea Falconer, expressing support, said it was a “far-reaching” legislation with excellent intentions. She said even though it had taken a long time to get to this juncture, all Jamaicans must be encouraged to “embrace it and support it."
“There have been many criticisms that it has been 16 years in coming…but for the persons who will most benefit from the added protection, the wait was worth it,” she said.
She said that while the Bill was not perfect, it was a start and Jamaicans will be given more protection that they ever had before. She added that the new and wider protections against abuses will be life changing for many, especially the poor and the disadvantaged.
Government Senators Warren Newby, Aundre Franklyn and Arthur Williams, and Opposition Senators Navel Clarke and Basil Waite also voiced support.
Passing these Bills require a two-thirds majority of both Houses of Parliament and, if the Bill does not secure a two-thirds majority, it has to be put to the public in a referendum, which would require a 60 per cent majority vote.
But, it was passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 22, with 51 of the 60 MPs voting in favour. There were nine absentees and one seat is vacant. In the Senate Friday, all 18 members who were present voted yes. However, in the vote on the hanging issue, two members of the Senate- A.J. Nicholson and Norman Grant- abstained in line with their opposition to capital punishment, as did Opposition MP Ronnie Thwaites in the House of Representatives.
Passage of the Bill in the Senate means that it will go back to the House next week for final approval, after which it will require the Governor-General’s consent and gazetting.
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.
By ALECIA SMITH, JIS Reporter