Constitution Questions


Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett


Tribune Staff Reporter


CHIEF Justice Sir Michael Barnett met with the members of the Constitution Commission yesterday to advise them on what issues they should discuss over the next six months.

Prime Minister Perry Christie appointed the 13-member committee in August 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.

One of those changes, according to Sir Michael, would be to review the requirements of the justices in the Court of Appeal - which he said were causing a lot of good judges to be overlooked.

“One of the matters I thought was a bit surprising was a requirement for the Court of Appeal that a judge of the court must have to have prior judicial experience before he could be appointed to the Court Of Appeal,” he said.

“I have not found that provision in any other jurisdictions and I am a bit surprised that they would put such a restriction on the appointed justices because it excluded a lot of persons who would otherwise be eligible and who would otherwise serve as suitable judges of the Court of Appeal. While the requirement of prior judicial experience is laudable I am surprised they would require it as a pre requisite.”

Sir Michael, who served as Deputy Chairman of the last Constitutional Committee, reminded the members that full public support was needed for any provisions or they would be overlooked - like the last two referendums.

He said: “There were two previous attempts at amending the constitution since 1973; one in early 1981 and the other in 2002. Both were unsuccessful. Many of the provisions can not be amended without public approval, you must bear in mind that any proposal for change must be able to receive widespread public support.”

Sir Michael said he did not believe the upcoming referendums would fail - because it is a different time.

“The circumstances in 2002 and 1981 are radically different from the circumstances in 2012 and 2013. I have also never been persuaded by the argument that the referendums failed because the public did not have sufficient information to make an intelligent decision but that is something for the historians to look at,” he said.

This was the commission’s second meeting.

According to the Prime Minister, the commission will concentrate on examining anti-discrimination and fundamental rights provisions in the Bahamas constitution, but also citizenship-related questions.

He said: “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.”

Mr Christie also said the commission was 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.
Members of the commission will include former Attorney General Sean McWeeney, who will be 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.
The commission is expected to report its recommendations to the government by the end of March 2013.


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