Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Tuesday | October 13, 2009
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Snag for Charter - PNP unlikely to debate unless amendment is made

IT APPEARS that another blockade could stand in the way of the Charter of Rights.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding is slated to open the debate on the bill, which has occupied parliamentary discourse for nearly 17 years, but A.J Nicholson has said he is overlooking an important step.

Nicholson, the legal adviser for the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) and Senate whip, told The Gleaner yesterday that the PNP was unlikely to go ahead with the debate on the Charter of Rights unless an amendment was made to the Constitution to nullify the Privy Council's landmark Pratt and Morgan ruling.

"As far as the Opposition is concerned, the Charter of Rights cannot be passed without that piece of legislation being put in place because it has serious implications for the right-to-life provision," Nicholson said.

Yesterday, Leader of Government Business Andrew Holness said he was unaware that the PNP had twinned the debate on the Charter of Rights to the Pratt and Morgan ruling.

"No one has said anything like that to me. What I can tell you is that we intend to open the debate on the Charter of Rights tomorrow," Holness told The Gleaner yesterday.

The Charter of Rights is to replace Chapter Three of the Constitution, which deals with fundamental rights and freedoms. The provisions in the existing law and the proposed amendment take into consideration the right to life of an individual.

Last November, parliamentarians, in a conscience vote, took a landmark step in relation to the right to life when they voted nearly 34-15 for Jamaica to retain the death penalty.

At the time of that vote, Opposition Member of Parliament Robert Pickersgill suggested to Golding that the Constitution be amended to get around the Pratt and Morgan ruling.

The Privy Council has said that the appeal process for persons convicted of murder and who have been sentenced to be hanged must be completed within five years of conviction failing which, the sentence must be commuted to life imprisonment.

Jamaica has not executed a condemned felon since 1988 and lawmakers have blamed the slow pace at which the wheels of the judiciary turn for the inability to complete the appeal process within the stipulated five-year window.

During the debate on the death penalty, Pickersgill had moved 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 into in a court of law".

If legislation were to be introduced for such a constitutional amendment, it would have to sit for three months before the first reading in Parliament and then another three months before being debated.

Golding said the Government did not accept that it was impossible to complete all the necessary processes leading up to the punishment within five years.

"We do not accept that the only way that capital punishment can be imposed is by going the Barbados route to avoid the Pratt and Morgan strictures," Golding said.

Final vote

He also told Parliament that "what is agreed is that the debate will proceed ... with a clear commitment that in the event that a final vote is for the retention of capital punishment, we will support the position for an amendment to the Constitution to facilitate the extension of the five-year period."

Yesterday, Nicholson said the prime minister would signal that he cannot keep his word if he starts the debate without the Pratt and Morgan caveat.

"We don't agree that the Charter of Rights can be debated until the Government fulfils the prime minister's promise concerning the Pratt and Morgan. His word would mean nothing," Nicholson said.

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