Sun | Dec 3, 2023

Government senator hails composition of Constitutional Reform Committee

Published:Saturday | March 25, 2023 | 1:13 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer


Government Senator Charles Sinclair is defending the composition of the Constitutional Reform Committee which has attracted public attention because 11 of the 14 members are attorneys-at-law.

Sinclair used Friday’s sitting of the Senate to congratulate Senate President Tom Tavares-Finson, Ransford Braham, and Donna Scott-Mottley for their appointments.

“The Constitution is not the easiest thing to read and so one would expect that persons that will be guiding this process will probably need (a) legal background but yes, there are other persons from civil society, from youth organisations that are on the committee. Many people have been asking for the amendments so that the Constitution can be more relevant to today’s Jamaica,” he declared.

Describing the work of the committee as the most comprehensive and impactful constitutional reform to be undertaken in the life of independent Jamaica, Sinclair admitted to being bothered by the reaction of some people to the preponderance of legal minds.

“The Constitution is an important and critical document to the Government and governance of this country. One could describe it as the foundation of everything that we do and in looking at what has been said in relation to the committee.

“What I find a little troubling, however, the committee was just named and the first comment, you have some persons who come out to criticise and the committee has not even started to work. They have not given it an opportunity to work and I believe that you have a wide cross-section of persons from various backgrounds who are appointed. Yes, many of them are attorneys but they are looking at a document that is complex,” he argued.

In announcing the appointments of Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte and Lieutenant General Rocky Meade as co-chairs of the committee established to provide “expert guidance and oversight” to the Government during the process towards republican status, last week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness insisted that the group would work in the best interest of the country.

The two will work alongside Canadian Professor Richard Albert, international constitutional law expert; Attorney General Dr Derrick McKoy; Senate President Tom Tavares-Finson; Government Senator Ransford Braham; Opposition Senator Donna Scott-Mottley; Opposition Member of Parliament Anthony Hylton; Dr Lloyd Barnett, national constitutional law expert; Hugh Small, consultant counsel; Dr David Henry, pastor; Dr Nadeen Spence, civil society, social and political commentator; Laleta Davis Mattis, national reparations committee representative; and Sujae Boswell, youth adviser.

However, attorney-at-law Kenyatta Powell has taken issue with the group’s composition, insisting that there are several approaches that can be taken in terms of constitutional reform.

“If we are deciding on fundamental rules as to how we organise a society, that decision should be open to a much wider cross-section of the society. So I reject the idea that only lawyers and people with PhDs have something worthwhile to contribute to the discussion about the fundament rules of how we organise our society,” Powell told The Gleaner in an earlier interview.

Meanwhile, Jamaicans for Justice Executive Director Mickel Jackson, while welcoming the naming of the committee as a “critical step” in the country moving towards a republic, is looking forward to the committee’s terms of reference.

“We raise questions whether the expertise listed is diverse enough to effectively inform the process,” she added. “We note that majority of members are attorneys and issues worth ventilating need a broadened and diverse perspective.”