Parliament passes Charter of Rights
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
PARTISAN POLITICS found no place in the House of Representatives yesterday when it became apparent that members have successfully taken a giant step towards amending the Constitution.
Even before Heather Cooke, clerk to the Houses of Parliament, could announce the passage of the Charter of Rights in the lower house at 5:59 p.m., members rose in one accord, thumping desks and smiling gleefully. They have been able to complete a journey of constitutional amendment which began in the 1990s.
"Unity is strength," shouted West Portland representative Daryl Vaz, applause drowning out his voice.
The Charter of Rights, which required a two-third majority of the vote, received unanimous support from the 51 members who were present for yesterday's sitting.
Eight members of parliament - Dr Peter Phillips, Natalie Neita Headley, Olivia Grange, Michael Peart, Dean Peart, Dr Patrick Harris, Roger Clarke and Kern Spencer - were absent from the vote.
The South West St Catherine seat is the only vacant one in the 60-seat house of representatives.
Even before the vote, Prime Minster Bruce Golding was revelling in the moment. He said the Charter of Rights, which is to replace Chapter III of the Constitution "represents what our people are entitled to".
The Charter of Rights places on the State an obligation to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms for all persons in Jamaica and affords protection to the rights and freedoms of persons as set out in those provisions.
The Charter of Rights dictates that Parliament shall pass no law and establish no organ of the state which abrogates, abridges or infringes the fundamental rights of citizens.
Meanwhile, the House also passed another constitutional amendment which is intended to nullify the Pratt and Morgan ruling of the United Kingdom-based Privy Council.
Based on the Pratt and Morgan ruling by the Privy Council, a condemned man cannot be executed if his process of appeals lasts more than five years from the date of his sentencing. The amendment has removed the five-year stricture making it easier for the carrying out of capital punishment.
Central Kingston Member of Parliament Ronald Thwaites abstained from voting on the amendment.
The House was, however, plunged into laughter after East Hanover MP Dr D.K. Duncan voted for the amendment, going against his conscience.
"I am sorry. I made a mistake," Duncan said after he enquired if he could change his vote and was told no by Speaker Delroy Chuck.
The Senate is to vote on the constitutional amendments before the parliamentary year ends in just over a week.
If the amendments are not approved by the Senate then the process would have to be re-started next parliamentary year.