KINGSTON –– The government has signalled that it intends to make good on its promise to sever colonial ties with Britain by bringing a Constitution amendment bill to Parliament to have the Queen of England Elizabeth ll, replaced with a non-executive president as head of state.
This would do away with the governor general as the Queen’s representative there, and make Jamaica a republic. A non-executive president, like the governor general, would still be a symbolic leader and perform a representative and civic role but with no powers to make policy. But he or she could use discretionary powers for extraordinary political intervention, based on the Constitution.
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, in the 2016/2017 Throne Speech to mark the opening of the new session of Parliament, announced the plan to move to republican status, while outlining a raft of other measures that are now on the legislative agenda.
The new administration appears set on doing what former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller in her inauguration speech following her party’s victory in the 2011 general election, had proposed to do. Simpson Miller said then that as Jamaica celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence, the Government would “initiate the process for our detachment from the Monarchy to become a republic with our own indigenous president as head of state”.
Also on top of the agenda is legislation for fixed election dates (local and general) and term limits for the prime minister. Sir Patrick announced, too, that a National Human Rights Institute (NHRI) is to be set up in law and the Office of the Public Defender “enhanced to incorporate the NHRI”.
The Government in 2014 started dialogue with the Commonwealth Secretariat to set up the body in compliance with a set of guiding standards adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993.
The promised Impeachment Bill is also to be brought to the House. The law will allow for criminal proceedings to be brought against corrupt public officials and parliamentarians.
Among the other pieces of legislation are: the bill to amend the INDECOM Act; a bill to amend the Constitution to address the judicial review of the director of public prosecutions; and the Criminal Justice Amendment Bill to provide for reduced sentences on guilty pleas.
Additionally, the governor general said the government has proposed that the Dangerous Drugs Act is to be further amended to “give full legislation” for marijuana to be used for specified purposes.
Lawmakers are also expected to carry through other pieces of legislation that are already in train. These include the Integrity Commission Bill; the Arbitration Bill; and the Judicature (Resident Magistrate) (Amendment) Bill; the Law Reform (Notice of Alibi) Bill, which stalled in the House years ago when members of parliament protested the provisions; and the Mutual Assistance (Criminal Matters) (Amendment) Bill to allow for the introduction of evidence by closed circuit television link and video-recorded evidence. Changes are also slated for the Trafficking in Persons Bill to give the court powers to prosecute offences under the Act without a jury, while legislation to govern judicial accountability for performance and behaviour in office, is also expected to feature during the year.