Stern Urges Effective Public Defender to Enforce Charter of Rights


Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce & Investment and Member of Parliament (MP) for North West Clarendon, Hon. Michael Stern, has said that without a proper mechanism, such as an effective Public Defender to enforce sanctions against abuse, the proposed Charter of Rights and Freedoms will become another wasted effort.
Mr. Stern said that cost is a critical factor which militates against the public’s capacity to access the justice system. He was speaking in the debate on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (November 3).
“The machinery to access the judiciary is sometimes slow and in some cases non-existent, therefore, consistent and effective reform of the justice system must be looked at for the benefit of the small man,” Mr. Stern said.
“It is evident to me, based on my experience, that this newly amended Charter of Rights and Freedoms will be of little consequence, if they cannot be enforced on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged, who are the most defenceless against abuse of their rights and freedoms,” he noted.
“Many of us sitting in this Honourable House have been forced to defend our constitutional rights at great pain and costs. We must ask ourselves the question, can a small man in Frankfield (Clarendon) afford to go the distance in the courts and fight to maintain his civil liberties? My recent experience in the court tells me a resounding ‘No’,” the Clarendon MP, added.
He said that the Charter could become an effective tool to foster the development of a dynamic society, “but without proper mechanism in the form of an effective public defender, that is well funded and well equipped to enforce sanctions against abuse,” it would become another wasted effort.
Mr. Stern proposed that the obvious deficiencies in the justice system, which could affect the ability of ordinary Jamaicans to benefit from the Charter, be addressed. He suggested funding guaranteed by the state, the private sector and civil society for the Office of the Public Defender, as well as the NGOs that represent the interests of the less privileged.
He also expressed his concern about the proposal to link bipartisan co-operation on passing the Charter to agreement on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), as Jamaica’s final appellate court.
“This is a separate issue and it is foolhardy for the Opposition to hold Jamaicans, and, indeed, the growth and development of this great nation, at ransom for the sake of implementing the Caribbean Court of Justice,” he said.
He noted that many Jamaicans maintain an “unbroken confidence” in the Privy Council, and still believe that the justice system is deficient, in many areas, and needs the critical judgments of the Privy Council, as an appellate court.
However, Mr. Stern expressed confidence that the Charter would help to bridge the void between the authorities and the citizenry.
“This Bill will finally move us up a step towards good governance, with the people at the centre,” he predicted.
He acknowledged that the broadening and the deepening of the rights to which the Bill speaks is, perhaps, the most significant and far reaching measure brought to Parliament in recent times. He projected that the Charter could become an effective tool in fostering the development of a more dynamic society.
The Charter provides for the protection of the rights and freedoms of Jamaicans, subject to such measures as are required for state governance in periods of public disaster or emergency, or as are regarded as demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. It will replace Chapter Three of the Jamaican Constitution. It has been before Parliament for nearly 17 years.

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