By CELESTE NIXON
Tribune Staff Reporter
WITH the 40th anniversary of the Independence of the Bahamas fast approaching the government has initiated a review of the constitution in order to modernise and make more relevant its provisions, particularly those concerning fundamental rights.
During his address in the House of Assembly yesterday, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced the appointment of a new Constitutional Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the Constitution of the Bahamas and recommend changes to it in advance of the country's independence anniversary next year.
"The constitution of the Bahamas,” he said, “is now almost 40 years old, this is an appropriate juncture for us as a nation to take stock of where we are today in light of the constitutional experience of the past four decades and to collectively decide, both in legislature and in a national referendum, what reforms and adjustments, if any, should be introduced in order to secure the continuing relevance, vitality and resilience of supreme law of the land."
Mr Christie said the Commission will concentrate on examining anti-discrimination and fundamental rights provisions in the Bahamas constitution, but also citizenship-related questions.
"It is anticipated that the new Commission will pay particular attention to the need to strengthen the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, including the need to end gender-based discrimination against women consistent with the United Nations Conventions and more enlightened views that have developed globally since the attainment of our Independence," he said.
Mr Christie also said the Commission is expected to examine complex questions relating to the regulation of the relationship between state power and the individual, the retention and enforcement of capital punishment, whether the Bahamas should remain a constitutional monarchy or evolve into a republic and whether if the Caribbean Court of Justice or perhaps final court in the Bahamas should replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the final court of appeal under our constitution.
Additionally, questions relating to the Bahamas' political system will arise for constitutional review, said Mr Christie. Among these include whether there should be constitutionally fixed dates for the general elections, whether there ought to be fixed term limits for Prime Ministers and Members of Parliament, whether the electorate should be vested with limited rights to recall their MPs and what powers should be vested in the Attorney General or if a constitutionally independent Director of Public Prosecutions should be established, he said.
Any change to the constitution will require a national referendum, Mr Christie noted.
Members of the commission will include former attorney general Sean McWeeney, who will function as chairman, Loren Klein, Carl Bethel, Justice Rubie Nottage (retired), Mark Wilson, Lester Mortimer, Tara Cooper-Burnside, Michael Stevenson, Dr Olivia Saunders, Michael Albury, Chandra Sands, Brandace Duncanson and Carla Brown-Roker.
Mr Christie added that it is anticipated that a website will be launched to keep the public informed of the Commission's work, in addition to providing a "channel for the exchange of views and ideas between the Commission and the general public on matters of constitutional reform."
The Commission is expected to report its recommendations to the Government by the end of March 2013.