KINGSTON, Jamaica, January 11, 2023 - After taking seven months to respond to Opposition Leader Mark Golding’s letter seeking clarity regarding the establishment of the Constitutional Reform Committee, Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo-Forte says she is disappointed that Mr. Golding has declined to name opposition members of parliament to the committee.
Mr. Golding said he wrote to the Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs on the 3rd of June last year, seeking answers to a number of questions he had posed and for which he is yet to receive an adequate response.;
However, Mr. Golding told the parliament that he only received a response from the Minister on the 5th of January. He said he confirmed that the parliamentary opposition would participate in the deliberations of the committee, however, he had some initial concerns which he wanted the minister to clarify.
He observed that “the country is anticipating that the process for our country to become a republic with a Jamaican head of state will begin in earnest this jubilee year celebrating our 60th anniversary of independence…”
However he pointed out that “the relevant parameters in this regard have already been agreed by the two major political parties arising from the extensive constitutional reform consultative processes over the past 25 years, and the required legislative research has already been done.
We are now in June, and we feel strongly that the commencement of the process cannot be delayed by shunting the matter to be again deliberated by another Committee.”
The Opposition Leader went on to point out that “there is also the critical matter of Jamaica adopting the Caribbean Court of Justice as our final court of appeal. Again, the preparatory work for this has already been done. This matter concerns the fundamental issue of access to justice for our citizens, and is a logical adjunct to moving away from the British monarchy. We do not wish this matter to be enmeshed in another process of deliberations by another Committee.”
The Opposition Leader said he also communicated to Minister Malahoo Forte that the matter of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) becoming Jamaica's final appellate court is as important as the transition to republic status, and should also be considered by the Constitutional Reform Committee.
He argued that the move to a republic state must not be done in a piecemeal way but that the country must "complete our decolonization, achieve full sovereignty and political independence by moving away from the [King's] Privy Council as our final court".
Speaking on the RJR public affairs programme “Beyond the Headlines” on Tuesday Mrs Malahoo-Forte suggested that the opposition was seeking to twin the issues of the move to a republic and the move to make the CCJ Jamaica's final appellate court.
The minister insisted that the government does not yet have consensus on the final court, though it understands and shares some concerns.
Mr. Golding went on to observe that the government wanted to amend the Charter of Rights, noting that “the Charter of Rights was recently enacted, and importance jurisprudence is already beginning to emerge from the Courts as to the meaning and effect of some of its provisions.”
He observed that “there is an important pending judgement of the Constitutional Court relating to the constitutionality of the Government's recent use of the State of Public Emergencies, a matter which (as you are aware) was the subject of adverse dicta by the Supreme Court in a previous case.”
“The Opposition is not persuaded that this is an appropriate time to embark on, and sees no compelling need for, a review of the Charter of Rights,” Mr. Golding told Minister Malahoo-Forte.
He told the Minister that her “responses will be considered in making my choice of the persons to represent the Parliamentary Opposition on the Committee.”
Expressing disappointment at the opposition's position, Mrs Malahoo Forte said while she understood the concerns, those could be ventilated during deliberations of the committee and consensus achieved.
She chided the opposition, urging them not to "hold up the naming of the committee", which she said is meant to "build consensus and to ensure that the views of the Parliamentary Opposition are taken into account."