DEPUTY President of the Senate Charles Sinclair has come out in staunch defence of the appointment of the high-level Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC) that has been criticised for its composition, mainly because it comprises a large number of lawyers.
Formally announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Wednesday, the 14-member committee, which has 11 lawyers, is tasked with providing expert guidance and oversight for Jamaica's smooth transition from a constitutional monarchy to a republic.
The CRC, whose members are drawn from the Government, the Opposition, the Attorney General, constitutional law and governance experts, and representatives from academia and civil society, is required to help guide the constitutional reform process throughout all three phases of work, culminating in the crafting of a modern and new constitution.
Sinclair, during the sitting of the Senate on Friday, countered the criticisms expressed by some groups that the members of the committee are not diverse enough, noting that he finds it troubling that persons have "come out to criticise and the committee has not even started to work".
"You have a wide cross section of persons from various backgrounds who [have been] appointed to the committee. Yes, many of them are attorneys but they are looking at a document which is complex. The Constitution is not the easiest thing to read and so one would expect that there are persons that will be there in guiding this process and who would probably need a legal background, yes, but there are other persons from civil society…representatives of youth [that] are on the committee," he said.
Sinclair said the three members of the Senate who were appointed to the CRC — Senate president and Commissioner of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica Tom Tavares-Finson, Government Senator Ransford Braham, and Opposition Senator Donna Scott Mottley — "have been known to me for many years…and I believe that they are worthy of the appointment".
He added that he is pleased the country is now at this "critical juncture" — after discussions over many years regarding the reform of the constitution — to now have a committee which is going to assist in the guidance of that process.
Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate Peter Bunting, while commending the senators who have been appointed to the CRC, said this development shows how slowly the pace of constitutional reform has been progressing since his first term in Parliament in 1993 when he was a member of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Reform at the time.
"I have to encourage them to move the process along, and I really hope that we can move forward in a spirit of unity to ensure that these changes that are now being contemplated — and maybe new ones that have not been previously contemplated — will be such that it will fundamentally change the relationship between the State and the citizens for the better," he said.
In her response, Senator Scott Mottley thanked her colleagues for recognising the significance of this appointment.
"I can assure the public that we do not take it lightly, that we have noticed what [has] gone before, and that we are committed to ensuring that we take this process as far as possible," she said.
As for the "detractors" with negative views about the commision, she asserted that "this does not disturb me. The best way to deal with those concerns is to deliver and to show that we are capable and we are committed".
"We have very many distinguished persons on that committee, and I am both honoured and humbled to be a part of this history-making commission," she said.
In the meantime, Scott Mottley encouraged students who were present in the gallery to form a little committee, with the help of their teachers, to start looking at the constitution and what they would like to see enshrined in a new document.
"Let them comment on the language, the need for simplicity, the need for them to understand what is in a document that protects their rights and defines who they are as Jamaicans and how we function as a country," she said.
The committee is chaired by Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte, and co-chaired by Ambassador Rocky Meade.
Other committee members are: Attorney General Dr Derrick McKoy; Member of Parliament, St Andrew Western, Anthony Hylton; international constitutional law expert, Professor Richard Albert; national constitutional expert, Dr Lloyd Barnett; consultant counsel and nominee of the leader of the Opposition, Hugh Small; representative of the wider faith-based society, Dr David Henry; representative of civil society, Dr Nadeen Spence; chair of the National Committee on Reparations, Lalieta Davis Mattis; youth advisor, Sujae Boswell; and the committee's liaison officer, Christopher Harper.