Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
AS JAMAICA prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Independence from Britain, the Government says it's far advanced with steps aimed at replacing The Queen as the country's head of state.
Mark Golding, the country's justice minister, told The Gleaner yesterday that he expects a draft bill, which is intended to create the framework for making the country a republic, to be ready by September.
"That is coming. It will before Cabinet either Monday or Monday after that," Golding told The Gleaner.
If Cabinet signs off on the proposed bill, drafting instructions will be given to the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel, and thereafter the bill would be tabled in Parliament.
"We know exactly what we are doing in terms of legislatively how we will go about it. I anticipate that those bills will be ready this calendar year," Golding said.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, in her swearing-in address on January 5, had said Jamaica's golden jubilee would see the country making significant strides towards breaking its attachment to the British Empire.
"I love The Queen. She is a beautiful lady, and apart from being a beautiful lady, a wise lady and a wonderful lady, but I think time come," Simpson Miller said.
Similarly, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding last April said Jamaica should replace The Queen as head of state before Independence Day this year. Jamaica will mark 50 years of Independence on August 6.
"I have long believed that if I am to have a queen, it must be a Jamaican queen. I would not wish to see us celebrate 50 years of Independence without completing that part of our 'sovereignisation', for want of a better word," he told legislators.
In the meantime, the Simpson Miller administration, on Tuesday, made good on a promise to table bills in Parliament to pave the way for the abolition of appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, replacing it with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica's final appellate court.
Simpson Miller, who is currently in England for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, will open the debate on the bills in the House of Representatives next week.
With one of the bills being a proposed constitutional amendment, it will have to remain on the table for three months before a second reading and a further three months before a vote is taken on it.
Golding said the Government sought to table the CCJ bills "because we see them as more urgent bills".
In order to establish the CCJ, the bill, which is proposing to amend the Constitution, requires a two-thirds support in both the House and the Senate.
The Government has a two-thirds majority in the House and one less than two-thirds in the Senate.
The parliamentary opposition has indicated it will only support the CCJ as Jamaica's final appellate court if the matter is put to the country and approved in a referendum. The Government has shunned that request.
"We disagree with them on that issue. It's not legally required or constitutionally required. We think it is a bad idea to be having issues that do not require referendum to be dealt with in that way," Mark Golding said.
He further argued that the Privy Council was a very expensive option when compared to the CCJ. He said the cost of taking cases to the Privy Council was prohibitive.
"We have a bill owed to a firm of solicitors in London in relation to a tax appeal, it's 170,000 (pounds) ... . Solicitors and barristers in London are charging 500 (pounds) an hour. It's a very expensive proposition. Plus plane fares to get there, accommodation is very expensive, and you need a visa," the justice minister said.
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, apart from being strident in his call for a referendum on whether Jamaica fully accedes to the CCJ, has labelled the move to amend the Constitution as a distraction from the economic challenges confronting the nation.
"You will have my support when you tell me how CCJ and Queen are going to help end poverty in Jamaica," Holness said during the recent Budget Debate in Parliament.