Lawyer questions motive for ‘comprehensive review’ of constitution

SHIRLEY Richards, attorney-at-law and former head of advocacy group Lawyers Christian Fellowship, has questioned whether the State’s motive for a “comprehensive review” of the 1962 constitution to facilitate Jamaica becoming a republic is a “ploy to get rid of the clauses, which among other things, protect marriage, the life of the unborn, and the buggery law”.

Richards, in a recent letter to the editor of the Jamaica Observer, contended that the intended all-inclusive overhaul of the Charter of Rights just 11 years after it was amended is without merit unless something far more sinister is at hand.

In June this year, Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte, in her 2022/23 Sectoral Debate presentation in the House of Representatives, announced that a Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC), to include representatives from the Government, parliamentary Opposition, relevant experts, and the wider society, is to be appointed to ensure Jamaica’s smooth transition to a republic.

“I have set out the work to be done by the committee in very broad terms, specifying, among other things, that it will involve at this stage the conduct of a thorough and comprehensive review of the 1962 Constitution. This includes the 2011 Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom, as well as recommendations for reform made through the various constitutional reform commissions and committees in the past, ultimately, to implement an ambitious reform agenda, settled by consensus,” Malahoo Forte said at the time. She also said the reform work will require the thorough and comprehensive review of the 1962 Constitution of Jamaica, as the country has to determine the extent to which the existing structure of Government ought to be modified or preserved.

But according to an acerbic Richards, “if the aim is to become a republic, why not focus on those specific clauses only? Why undertake such an ‘ambitious agenda’?

“What else is the Government seeking to achieve by having this ‘thorough’ review of the constitution? The Charter of Rights came into effect in 2011 after many years of deliberations so we have barely had 11 years of that jurisprudence! What is it that the Government finds objectionable about this document that it has come up so quickly for ‘thorough ‘ review?” the attorney-at-law mused.

“Is this all a ploy to get rid of the clauses which inter alia protect marriage, the life of the unborn and the buggery law? Wondering aloud, will we at the end of all the effort to become a republic find that we have adopted constitutional provisions which make us more like our former colonial masters than we were before?” she queried further.

Section 72 of Jamaica’s Offences Against the Person Act makes it a felony, which may attract a sentence of life imprisonment, for any woman or person who unlawfully administers to herself, or any woman, poison or other noxious thing, or unlawfully uses any instrument or other means, whatsoever, with intent to procure miscarriage.

Section 76 of the same Act makes buggery punishable across the board, with a penalty of imprisonment for up to 10 years, with hard labour.

Richards, in referring to the pending Partnership Agreement between the European Union and the African Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP), said “what is also interesting and ironic is that whilst we are looking at ridding ourselves of the British monarchy, our Government is at the same time finalising an agreement with the European Union along with other African, Caribbean Pacific countries, which if finalised in its current language, would eclipse the current involvement of the British monarchy in our affairs”.

Questioning whether Jamaica was simply ‘swopping one foreign master for another’, Richards said: “The anticipated breadth of involvement by the EU in Jamaica’s affairs which, will be ceded to the EU, is strikingly reminiscent of the role that the Colonial Office played in our nation in times past”.

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

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