Heated exchanges in Senate as Morris queries constitutionality of female-only committee
Testy exchanges characterised a debate on a resolution to establish a bicameral sessional select committee of women in Jamaica’s legislature on Friday after one opposition lawmaker questioned the constitutionality of the move.
The resolution had to be reviewed by the Standing Orders Committee of the Senate as it amends the rules of the Upper House to establish the Caucus of Women Parliamentarians.
When the Standing Orders Committee met to review and vote on the measure, opposition Senator Dr Floyd Morris indicated that he would abstain from voting as his request for the Senate to get a formal opinion from the attorney general and the solicitor general on the constitutionality of the female-only caucus was not accommodated.
During the debate on the resolution, Morris said that as a review chamber of the bicameral legislature, senators have a constitutional duty to ensure that all laws, regulations, and Standing Orders are in sync with the Constitution of the country.
Morris said a careful review of the resolution raised a red flag for him.
He said that Section 13 (i) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms states that everyone has the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of being a male or a female.
Morris indicated that before the sitting of the Senate convened, he requested of Leader of Government Business Kamina Johnson Smith that she get an opinion from the Government’s chief legal advisers.
Johnson Smith, in sotto voce comment, indicated that Morris was being disingenuous, but the opposition senator hit back.
“No, Minister. You can’t talk about me being disingenuous. You are being rude … . You don’t know my heart and my motives,” Morris protested.
Government Senator Natalie Campbell Rodriques chided Morris for his comments on the resolution.
According to her, “what is a red flag is a man objecting to women” meeting to discuss issues pertaining to females.
In her comments, Senator Sherene Golding Campbell sought to allay Morris’ fears about the resolution, saying that she does not believe it is unconstitutional.
She indicated that there was nothing in the resolution, the Standing Orders, or the Constitution that allowed for male members to be barred.
“The Constitution does not prohibit, in my view, the naming of a bicameral caucus of women parliamentarians. What it prevents that caucus from doing is barring a member from selection because they are male. That’s what it does,” she argued.
Johnson Smith later told the Senate that the attorney general sent his informal view on Morris’ concerns.
“The attorney general has indicated that in his view, the motion does not offend the Constitution, in that it facilitates concerns about an under-represented segment of the legislative chambers and it could be, therefore, no more discriminatory than establishing similar sessions for persons with disabilities, young people, the elderly or religious grouping,” she said.
However, Morris insisted that he wanted a written opinion from the attorney general.
He told his senatorial colleagues that he had no sinister motives in raising the concern.
“I am doing my constitutional job as a senator. Mi nuh have nutten against women. I have always treated women with respect,” said Morris.
He added that all his life, he has been involved with championing the cause of groups of individuals regarded as vulnerable and that women find themselves within that category.
He further said that women have become the backbone of Jamaican society because of their diligence, dedication, and strength.
Morris said that women have held families together when some men have abdicated their responsibilities.