Malahoo Forte defends lawyer-centric Constitutional Reform Committee
Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Marlene Malahoo Forte

Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte has joined Deputy Senate President Charles Sinclair in defending the lawyer-heavy composition of the recently appointed high level Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC).

The 14-member committee, comprising 11 lawyers, was formally announced by Prime Minister Andrew Holness last Wednesday. It 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.

Last Friday, during the sitting of the Senate, Sinclair countered the criticisms expressed by some groups that the members of the committee are not diverse enough, noting that he found it troubling that people 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.

In a statement to Parliament on Tuesday, Malahoo Forte said she also noted the concerns reported in the media and those expressed elsewhere about the lawyer-centric nature of the committee.

She contended that constitutional reform work is highly technical and complex, especially the work to be done in phase 1.

Phase 1 of the constitutional reform process includes repatriation of the Constitution of Jamaica, abolition of the constitutional monarchy, establishment of the Republic of Jamaica, and all matters within the deeply entrenched provisions of the constitution for which a referendum is required to amend.

"Although not everyone who is a lawyer by profession is on the committee in that role, I invite those who have questioned the wisdom of having so many lawyers on this committee to consider that lawyers are always helpful in ensuring that all I's are dotted and all Ts are crossed, that due process is adhered in public consultations, procedural fairness and transparency prevail throughout the entire process," Malahoo Forte said.

Further, she said the CRC's intention is to co-opt stakeholders from various sectors in the society to serve on subcommittees, noting that already the Public Engagement and Communication Subcommittee has been established "and it will include members of the public and non-lawyer members of the public".

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter

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