Patterson: Let's bring our constitution 'home'Sunday, December 05, 2021
Amid his call for Jamaica to move towards becoming a republic, retired Jamaica Prime Minister P J Patterson also wants the nation's constitution to be, as he puts it, “brought home”.
Expanding on his midweek letter to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, which was copied to Opposition Leader Mark Golding, Patterson, in a telephone conversation with the Jamaica Observer on Friday, emphasised that some of the neocolonial ropes that still tie Jamaica's constitution in safekeeping in Britain must be cut loose, so as to allow for the Jamaican State to have supreme jurisdiction over its own book of rules.
“We need to repatriate our own constitution. Bring it home. Let a sovereign nation like Jamaica pass its own constitution itself,” Patterson emphasised in the 29-minute verbal exchange with this tabloid.
“My letter had two limbs – one was to establish Jamaica as a republic within the Commonwealth, and the second was to repatriate the constitution. What does the second part mean?
“The constitution of independent Jamaica is not the creative work of our own Parliament as a sovereign nation. Our constitution exists by virtue of an anachronistic order in council, signed by a Mr WG Agnew as an order by the Queen,” Patterson argued.
The preamble, Patterson stated, speaks to the work of the Queen's most excellent majesty in council... her majesty, of July 23, 1962.
“It is given as an amendment to the West Indies Act of 1962 and it is given by and with the advice of her Privy Council. It was laid before our parliament, which is a colonial parliament, on the 24th of July 1962, and that is the legal footing on which it has remained.
“Legal scholars and political scientists perhaps, are among the few to notice that, and who have been unrelenting in saying the constitution of Jamaica should be enacted by the sovereign parliament of an independent Jamaica. That is what we have been talking about, because, in legal terms, strictly legal terms, if her majesty in Privy Council were to withdraw or change that order, on what pillar would our constitution rest?
Patterson continued: “This is what we are saying…same time you are doing this thing… (moving to republican status), don't let it be on the order of her majesty in council. Let it be a sovereign parliament, accountable to the people, but with the executive authority vested in the head of state in council, which means the head of state on the advice of the Cabinet of Jamaica. We are saying that must happen simultaneously.
“Jamaicans were participants in establishing the constitution. It was not forced down our throats. But I don't like this idea of our constitution resting on an order in council granted by Buckingham Palace. If you are cutting the umbilical cord you need to do that. Some people might say it's a formality, but even if it's a formality, it's a formality which we should do,” Patterson said.
Jamaica's executive authority now is vested in her majesty, who acts through her representative – the governor general.
Patterson, in explaining why changes were not made under his watch as prime minister, which ran from 1992 to 2006, said that there were challenges with getting Opposition support, first from Edward Seaga, who verbally committed to having discussions on the matter, for Jamaica to make the switch by time of the country's 40th anniversary of independence in 2002, but other issues did not allow for those talks, which also did not happen by time Bruce Golding assumed leadership of the Jamaica Labour Party in 2005.
A move by Jamaica for it to switch to republican status would mean that Parliament would have to support the motion on a two-thirds majority; and later, a referendum would be held, whereby 60 per cent of those who participate by voting, would have to agree with ending the dominance of the British Monarchy.
“You have to get the Opposition fully on board for such a move,” Patterson insisted.