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Commission Appointed To Review Constitution

Sweeping changes could be on tap for the country’s 39-year-old Constitution now that a 13-member commission has been appointed to conduct a comprehensive review of the official document.

Critical and contentious topics like capital punishment, citizenship and the country’s political system will all be reviewed.

In the House of Assembly Wednesday Prime Minister Perry Christie announced that the commission has been given a broad mandate to build upon the “impressive work” that was done by the first Constitutional Commission, which was appointed on December 23, 2002 but later disbanded after May 2007.

“Complex questions relating to the retention and enforcement of capital punishment are expected to arise for consideration in this context as well,” he added. “The question of whether The Bahamas ought to remain a constitutional monarchy or evolve into a republic, albeit within the Commonwealth, is also expected to receive the close attention of the commission.”

“Similarly, whether and, if so, to what extent the Caribbean Court of Justice – or perhaps even a final court of our own – should replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as the final Court of Appeal under our Constitution will be a question that the Constitutional Commission will likely have to consider as well.”

Prime Minister Christie said he anticipates 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 United Nations conventions and more enlightened views that have developed globally since the attainment of The Bahamas’ independence.

“The commission’s inquiry into this particular matter will necessarily entail close examination not only of the anti-discrimination and fundamental rights provisions but also the citizenship provisions of the Constitution as well,” Prime Minister Christie said. “Indeed there are other difficult citizenship-related questions that will no doubt exercise the Constitutional Commission as well.

The prime minister added that the Constitutional Commission will bring the provisions of the Constitution that regulate the relationship between centres of state and the individual under renewed scrutiny.

He explained that this will be done with a view to affording greater individual protection against abuses of power, while at the same time ensuring that the collective security needs of the citizenry as a whole are not unduly compromised by the pursuit of the individual liberty in a democratic society.

Additionally, he added that a broad and diverse range of questions relating to The Bahamas’ political system will arise for constitutional review.

“These will include questions such as whether there ought to be constitutionally fixed dates for general elections; whether there ought to be fixed term limits for prime ministers and Members of Parliament (MP),” he said.

“Whether the electorate should be vested within limited rights to recall their MPs; whether the Senate, being an appointed body, should be constituted differently to encapsulate a broader cross-section of national interests; whether eligibility for service in the Senate should be lowered from 30 to 21, the same age that applies to the House of Assembly; whether the Senate should even be retained at all?”

Mr. Christie said considerations will also be given to whether or not the constitutional power and authority over criminal prosecutions, that is now the responsibility of the attorney general, should be transferred to a constitutionally independent director of public prosecutions with the security of tenure.

The prime minister said these changes will require a national referendum to be held so that the will of the people can be determined.

The Bahama Journal attempted to get Mr. Christie to give more information about the work this commission will do; however, he declined any further interviews on the issue, noting that he does not want his personal views to influence the outcome of the recommendations.

“As the Constitution of The Bahamas is now almost 40 years old, this is an appropriate juncture for us, as a nation, to take stock of where we today in light of the constitutional experience of the past four decades and to collectively decide both in legislature and in national referendum, what reforms and adjustments, if, any should be introduced in order to secure the continuing relevance, vitality and resilience of the supreme law of the land,” he added.

Former Attorney General Sean McWeeney is the commission’s chairman, while Chief Counsel in the Attorney General’s Office Loren Klein will serve as the technical co-ordinator of the commission’s secretariat.

Other commission members include former Attorney General Carl Bethel, retired Justice Rubie Nottage, Mark Wilson, Lester Mortimer, Tara Cooper-Burnside, Michael Stevenson, Olivia Saunders, Michael Albury, Chandra Sands, Brandace Duncanson and Carla Brown-Roker.

The commission is expected to report its recommendations to the government on or before March 31, 2013.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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