March 15, 2008

Charter of Rights held Ransom - Jamaica

Charter of Rights to be held at ransom - PNP will not tender support until CCJ passed
Source: Jamaica Gleaner.
published: Saturday March 15, 2008
Opposition spokesman on Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Senator AJ Nicholson, has served notice on the Bruce Golding-led administration that his party will not support the passage of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is established as the nation's final appellate body.

"If there is to be judicial activism, let that judicial activism be done by persons in the Caribbean," Nicholson said in defending his party's position.

He was speaking Thursday night during the Management Institute for National Developments (MIND) public lecture, at the Knutsford Court Hotel, New Kingston.

The CCJ, a lomg-standing controversial issue in Jamaica, was put on ice after a 2005 ruling by the Privy Council that it was unconstitutional for the Jamaican Parliament to pass laws to allow the island to participate in the CCJ in its appellate jurisdiction without having it entrenched in the Constitution.

Privy Council issue

The Privy Council had agreed that Parliament, by simple majority, could abolish appeals to the United Kingdom appeals court, which was not entrenched in the Constitution. However, the law lords also argued that the Privy Council could not be replaced by a court which was not entrenched in the Jamaican Constitution and whose judges, like those of the domestic court, did not have constitutional protection.

Nicholson said the rights charter should be interpreted by local law lords and not left to overseas individuals.

"We are about to have in our constitution a new charter of rights and freedoms, and in that charter, there are going to be some new and modern provisions, which are not recited in the present Constitution," he said. "Jamaica will have to consider deeply whether it wishes the provisions of that charter to be interpreted and adjudicated upon by a court in the United Kingdom, or a court here in the Caribbean, a court of our own."

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has been discussed on and off in Parliament for about 25 years, is a piece of legislation which seeks to provide members of the public with a list of fundamental rights and privileges that will be enshrined in or deeply protected by the Constitution.

While in government, Nicholson's People's National Party had championed both the CCJ and the rights charter.

On Thursday night, he said his party would now welcome a referendum on the CCJ.

"I also intend to table in the Senate, very soon, a resolution suggesting to the Government that we go ahead and deal with [this] outstanding matter," he said.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General Dorothy Lightbourne told The Gleaner yesterday afternoon that she did not have an immediate response to Nicholson's comments.

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