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Editorial: Curious silence on CCJ

Published:Sunday | April 24, 2016 | 12:00 AM
In this file photo, CCJ President Dennis Byron (right) departs the Jamaica Conference Centre after a session of the Shanique Myrie case. The Myrie decision has implications for immigration law and procedure across the Caribbean.

Perhaps the most curious of the proposals on the Holness Government's legislative agenda for this parliamentary year is the plan to amend the Constitution to replace the Queen with a non-executive president as Jamaica's head of state. In other words, Prime Minister Andrew Holness intends to make Jamaica a republic, which this newspaper supports.

In a way, it was a declaration by Mr Holness of a repatriation of Jamaica's sovereignty, closing the circle on decolonisation. It is an idea that could have great symbolism and historic poignancy, given Mr Holness' position as the first of the post-Independence generation to lead Jamaica.

Our puzzlement, though, is the absence of accompanying constitutional measures, or even mention of any, in the governor general's Throne Speech of 10 days ago. There was, for instance, not a single sentence, or word, on the continued use of the United Kingdom Privy Council as its court of last resort. Nor was there mention of accession to the Caribbean Court of Jamaica (CCJ) - an issue that has animated this country for more than a decade and engulfed Mr Holness and members of his party in a constitutional quarrel that had to be resolved in the courts.



Unless positions have shifted, there is consensus on both sides of the political divide, Mr Holness' Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People's National Party (PNP), on the idea of a republic. The question that will now arise is whether there is political alignment on its achievement.

It requires only a simple majority of all members of Parliament to amend Section 27 of the Constitution that establishes the office of governor general. That is the easy part. But Section 68, which vests "executive authority of Jamaica ... in Her Majesty" and allows the governor general to act on her behalf, can only be amended with a vote of at least two-thirds of the members of both Houses of Parliament, followed by support from the majority of the voters in a referendum.

Mr Holness' party and the Opposition are almost evenly split in the Lower House. The JLP would need at least a dozen PNP members voting with them for the bill to carry. The configuration of the Senate requires at least one opposition member voting with the Government to gain a two-thirds majority.

Ironically, exiting the Privy Council and embracing the regional court constitutionally requires only a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the legislature. In the last Parliament, the then government had the numbers on the Lower House, but it was blocked in the Senate by Mr Holness' party, then in Opposition.

According to Mr Holness' argument at the time - with which this newspaper disagrees - the decision on a final court should be the subject of a referendum. It is now unclear where the Government stands on the matter.

The administration's silence is not, we hope, a signal that the intention now is for Jamaica to stay with the Privy Council in perpetuity. Our suggestion is to reset the conversation of constitutional reform to get agreement on what is achievable.

For our money, the CCJ, with its easier access to the third-tier of the courts, carries greater practical value to Jamaicans than renaming the governor general president, although we do not discount the symbolism or psychological value of the latter.