Death penalty could falter in Senate
WHAT would happen if the Senate votes against capital punishment next Friday?
Parliament’s clerical staff is unsure and so is Prime Minister Bruce Golding. However, he has told the press that the decision of the House of Representatives, comprised of elected members, should take precedence if the Senate votes against it.
“I think a great deal of weight would have to be attached to what the 60 members of parliament said, because those were the persons who were elected by the people,” Golding said.
A close vote in the Senate has been indicated by the contributions to the debate in that House so far, and the fact that a number of members are lawyers with liberal views.
Unlike the House of Representatives, where it was very clear from early where the wind was blowing, the signals are less clear in the Senate. So far, about 13 senators have spoken in the debate and the indications are as follows:
. for retention – Dwight Nelson, Arthur Williams, Ronald Robinson, Warren Newby, Basil Waite, in addition to Navel Clarke; and
. against retention – Trevor MacMillan, Dennis Meadows, Mark Golding, and Sandrea Falconer.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice Dorothy Lightbourne, who is also the Leader of Government Business in the Senate, did not state a position, neither did Leader of Opposition Business A J Nicholson.
Those left to speak are: Don Wehby, Andre Franklin, Desmond McKenzie, Hyacinth Bennett, Thomas Tavares-Finson, Norman Grant, K D Knight and Noel Sloley.
It seems likely, however, that those supporting retention will get home by a narrow margin, but this will depend largely on how Opposition senators like Knight and Nicholson, and Government senators Wehby and Bennett vote.
It will be interesting to see whether the Opposition will use the opportunity of a “yes” vote to force the prime minister’s hand in supporting an amendment to the constitution they proposed, which would remove the Privy Council’s five-year stricture on carrying out the death penalty.
Golding had indicated a compromise with the Opposition when they threatened to pull out of the debate in the House unless their amendment was attached to his resolution. The compromise was for bipartisan support of the Opposition’s resolution, if Parliament agreed to retain the death penalty.
The Opposition’s proposal read, “Be it resolved that the Constitution of Jamaica be amended to remove the five-year stricture in relation to the carrying out of the death penalty after conviction, and also that the rulings of the Governor General’s Privy Council concerning the prerogative of mercy cannot be inquired in a court of law.”
This proposal has been criticised by some human rights groups and is expected to be the most contentious of the current death penalty issues.
Uncertainty surrounds anti-crime bills
There is still some uncertainty as to how committed Opposition parliamentarians are to the six anti-crime bills tabled in the House of Representatives in September by Prime Minister Golding.
Golding had expressed the wish to have the bills, which followed the Vale Royal bipartisan discussions this year, dealt with urgently, in light of the crime wave sweeping the island. But three months later, there is still no indication of how soon they will be passed, or even if there will be bipartisan support.
The report of the Joint Select Committee that studied the bills was tabled in Parliament last week. The report bore none of the signatures of the six Opposition members, while all eight Government members signed.
It was interesting to note, too, the attendance record of the Opposition members of parliament. Former minister of national security, Dr Peter Phillips, attended only one of the six meetings. The names of Sharon Haye-Webster and Fitz Jackson were removed after the first two meetings, and replaced by Ronald Thwaites and Robert Pickersgill, who each attended three of the next four meetings. The committee received only one apology (from Thwaites).
Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, who chaired the committee, as well as Colonel Trevor MacMillan, Pearnel Charles, Laurence Broderick, Daryl Vaz, Dr Arthur Williams, St Aubyn Bartlett, AJ Nicholson, KD Knight and Mark Golding attended every meeting. Senator Tom Tavares Finson missed one.