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KINGSTON – Debate on the long awaited Charter of Fundamental Rights which began in the Senate on Thursday March 31 is expected to close this afternoon.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, who is piloting the legislation, has explained that the Bill will replace Chapter Three of the Jamaican Constitution, noting that it was a “truly a historic piece of legislation."

The Charter 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.

Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte, said that the Charter was moving the nation in the right direction.

“I just want to point out one particular provision, which speaks to the entitlement of an accused person to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf, under the same conditions as witnesses against him,” Senator Malahoo Forte said.

“In essence what this does is to place a duty on the State, to assist in securing the attendance of defence witnesses. It is going to require a lot of resources for the justice system, and I believe that the Government is mindful of that and it will result in tremendous improvement,” she added.

Opposition Senator, Norman Grant, noted that the Bill speaks to the rights to freedom from discrimination and was fundamental to the country’s development. He called for “an intensive and comprehensive educational programme among all citizens.

“In fact this educational programme should include our political parties, the schools, the churches, and the workplace. We need to move to another level, as we seek to pass this Charter of Rights,” Senator Grant said.

Senator Camina Johnson Smith commented that the enshrinement of a charter of clear and expressed rights of Jamaicans has long been needed. She commented on the clause which speaks to the right to freedom from discrimination, on the grounds of being male or female.

“We have finally taken the step to comply with Article Two of the United Nations’ Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. Article Two calls on all parties to embody the principle of equality of men and women in their national constitutions, or other appropriate legislation and to ensure, through law or other appropriate means, the practical realisation of this principle,” Senator Johnson Smith explained.

Senator A.J. Nicholson said he supported the Charter, however, he said he would abstain from voting on the proposed amendment to Section 91 of the Constitution, which would empower the Governor General to set a time limit, of not less than 18 months, during which any person sentenced to hang must commence his petition to an entity outside the judicial system.

“I voted against the death penalty when the vote came. I condemn no one who is for the death penalty. The highest level of inhumanity that a fellow creature can be subjected to is to have his life taken away. I am not certain that this piece of legislation can withstand scrutiny before the Privy Council and, since I am not certain, I cannot vote for it,” Senator Nicholson said.

He added that he doesn’t believe that the death penalty will ever be carried out in Jamaica again.

“Whether we remain with the Privy Council or go to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the judgements I read from the CCJ tells me the way in which that court is thinking,” Senator Nicholson stated. Debate on the Bill will continue in the Senate on Friday April 1, 2011. 

                                               

By LATONYA LINTON, JIS Reporter